Freedom of Information Act Gallery

In recognition of FOIA Day

March 16, 2004

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FOIA Book – Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws 2002 (21st ed.)


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 this year.


Northwest Airlines Provides Millions of Records to NASA


Documents obtained by EPIC under the FOIA revealed that Northwest Airlines, in violation of its stated privacy policy, released records concerning millions of airline passengers to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The information was used in support of research into government data mining and screening systems. NASA retained the data for almost two years, and returned it to the airline only after the public outcry over a similar improper disclosure by JetBlue. The Northwest incident comes in the midst of an ongoing controversy surrounding the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II).

Majority Leader Uses FAA to Track Texas State Legislators


EPIC obtained Federal Aviation Administration transcripts and audio recordings concerning a request by the office of U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) to track Democratic Texas legislators leaving the state by air. The state lawmakers were seeking to prevent a vote on a controversial re-districting plan supported by Republicans. The audio recordings of telephone conversations between the FAA's Washington Operations Center and various field employees indicate that FAA employees were misled into believing that the request to track the legislators was part of an official Congressional investigation.

Passengers Wrongly Flagged by TSA's No Fly List


Documents released as a result of an FOIA lawsuit litigated by EPIC raise important questions about how the Transportation Security Administration has operated its "selectee" and "No-Fly" watchlists. The released material details scores of complaints filed with TSA by air passengers wrongly flagged by the watchlist system and documents the inability of the agency to remedy persistent problems created by the screening system. These complaints likely preview the kinds of difficulties that thousands of passengers will experience if CAPPS II is deployed.

National Security Letters Used With No Transparency


Heavily censored documents highlight the Justice Department's refusal to disclose basic, statistical information concerning implementation of the controversial USA PATRIOT Act. DOJ released only a blacked-out, six-page document listing National Security Letters (NSLs) issued during the first year after the Act went into effect. NSLs are issued by the FBI, without judicial involvement, to compel the disclosure of broad categories of personal information. The secrecy surrounding the government's use of PATRIOT Act powers has hampered public debate on the controversial law.

Complaints Show Need for Telemarketing Do-Not-Call List


In November 2003, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held a hearing in a challenge to the Federal Trade and Federal Communication Commissions' Do-Not-Call Registry rules. In anticipation of this hearing, EPIC employed the Freedom of Information Act to obtain complaints made by individuals to the Federal Communications Commission about telemarketing to demonstrate the need for a national Do-Not-Call Registry. The Federal Communications Commission relied upon 11,000 consumer complaints in its decision to support the creation of a Do-Not-Call Registry. EPIC scanned in 100 of those complaints and grouped them roughly into three categories: telemarketers who ignore or frustrate individuals' requests to stop calling, telemarketers who become abusive or harass individuals, and the frustration that individuals experience as a result of autodialer and prerecorded voice calls. These complaints demonstrate that the new telemarketing regulations are a rational response to serious abuses in the telemarketing industry.

Complaints About Credit Reporting Agencies Increase


EPIC testified before Congress twice in 2003 regarding amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. As part of the research for testimony, EPIC obtained documents from the Federal Trade Commission regarding consumer complaints on the big three credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. Complaints against the big three have risen dramatically in recent years.

EPIC FOIA Gallery 2003 | EPIC FOIA Gallery 2002 | EPIC FOIA Gallery 2001


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