FOIA Note #18 (May 5, 2011)

Department of Defense Denies Communications, Contracts with "Project Vigilant"


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The Disclosure

In response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the Department of Defense denied allegations that the agency worked with a private firm to monitor civilian computer networks.

The Issue

Government surveillance of private-sector computer networks

The Background

In August 2010, representatives of "Project Vigilant," a private-sector group, claimed that the organization worked with government agencies to monitor ISP traffic and secretly collect information about Internet users. Project Vigilant specifically claimed an ongoing relationship with the Department of Defense. The organization attempted to recruit "volunteers" at DefCon 18, a computer security conference.

Project Vigilant's claims were subsequently challenged by computer security experts.

EPIC filed a FOIA request with the Department of Defense in August 2010, seeking: 1) all communications between the Department of Defense and Project Vigilant and 2) all agreements between the Department of Defense and Project Vigilant.

The Significance

The Department of Defense denied that the agency had any communications or contracts with Project Vigilant. The response calls into question the veracity of Project Vigilant's claim that the group performed surveillance for federal agencies.

About the Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act establishes a legal right for individuals to obtain records in the possession of government agencies. The FOIA is critical for the functioning of democratic government because it helps ensure that the public is fully informed about matters of public concern. The FOIA has helped uncover fraud, waste, and abuse in the federal government. It has become particularly important in recent years as the government has tried to keep more of its activities secret.

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