Freedom of Information Act Gallery

In recognition of FOIA Day

March 16, 2006

About FOIA | FOIA Resources | About FOIA Day
FOIA Day Conference | International FOIA | FOIA News
FOIA Book – Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws 2004 (22nd ed.)
Past EPIC FOIA Galleries: 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001


EPIC's Open Government Guide Helps Promote Government AccountabilityThe 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 the last few years as the government has tried to keep more of its activities secret.

A hallmark of the new surveillance measures proposed by various government agencies is their disregard for public accountability. As the government seeks to expand its power to collect information about individuals, it increasingly hides that surveillance power behind a wall of secrecy. Congress has long recognized this tendency in the Executive Branch, and sought to limit government secrecy by creating legal obligations of openness under the FOIA and the Privacy Act of 1974. EPIC has used these open government laws aggressively to enable public oversight of potentially invasive surveillance initiatives.

Public access through the FOIA not only allows for a more informed public debate over new surveillance proposals, but also ensures accountability for government officials. Public debate fosters the development of more robust security systems and leads to solutions that better respect the nation's democratic values. EPIC's FOIA litigation activity over the past year has resulted in disclosure of information about several government surveillance programs. The EPIC FOIA Gallery highlights some of the most significant documents we obtained in the past year.


FBI Reports Detailed Apparent Intelligence Abuses

Through Freedom of Information Act litigation, EPIC obtained nearly two dozen reports of apparent FBI misconduct in intelligence investigations, including improper e-mail collection, eavesdropping on the wrong person's telephone calls, investigations conducted for months without proper reporting or oversight, an FBI agent's seizure of financial records in violation of federal privacy law, and an unidentified intelligence agency's unlawful physical search. The reports sparked an inquiry by the Justice Department Inspector General into whether any of the instances involved abuse of Patriot Act powers.


Documents Showed Internal Reactions to Warrantless Surveillance Program

EPIC obtained some of the first Freedom of Information Act documents released by the government about the National Security Agency's controversial warrantless surveillance program. The documents included emails and a memo (pdf) from a former high-level Justice Department official expressing doubt about the government's argument in favor of the legality of the program. EPIC also obtained internal messages (pdf) from the NSA's director to agency staff, defending the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping and discouraging employees from discussing the issue with the news media.


Errors Continued to Plague Government Watch Lists

Documents (pdf) obtained by EPIC from the Transportation Security Administration under the Freedom of Information Act revealed nearly a hundred complaints from airline passengers between November 2003 and May 2004. The most common complaint is that passengers have been wrongly placed on a government watch list. Numerous complaints show passengers' frustration with the agency's failure to resolve their misidentification problems. EPIC also obtained complaints (pdf, part 1, part 2) from the Department of Homeland Security showing that visitors to the United States have experienced problems being "processed" by the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program. Complaints about the program include emails between an airline and the Department about 32 crew members who experienced fingerprint scanning mismatches that caused them to be improperly flagged by government watch lists.


Documents Shed Light on Voting Standards Development Process

In the past year, EPIC obtained numerous documents under the Freedom of Information Act revealing the Election Assistance Commission's development of standards for voting technology. The documents included complete draft standards for voting technology developed by the agency, as well as no-bid contracts (pdf, part 1, part 2) for work on voting system standards awarded to vendors with ties to the Commission's technical advisory committee.


Data Broker Proposed Massive Web Monitoring Plan


Through the Freedom of Information Act, EPIC obtained documents (pdf) showing that commercial data broker Acxiom proposed a system to automatically scan the Internet and identify websites "belonging to advocates of extremist views and actions[.]" The plan proposed to extract personal information from websites and use the data for "cross-reference analysis to establish possible connections between extremist groups" and to collect data for an "Identity Verification System to be used by airlines, rental car agencies, and other business and government agencies."


Social Security Administration Adopted Broad Information Disclosure Policy After 9/11

Documents (pdf) obtained by EPIC though the Freedom of Information Act revealed that after 9/11, the Social Security Administration adopted a broad "ad hoc" policy to allow the disclosure of sensitive personal information to law enforcement officials certifying that the data were sought "in connection" with a 9/11 investigation. As a result of the disclosure, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney called for hearings (pdf) and asked the agency (pdf) to explain its new policy.


EPIC Open Government Page | EPIC Home Page