In policy debates, knowledge is power. It is impossible to determine whether a problem exists in the implementation of a government program if the government won’t release information about the execution of that program. While the Obama administration is asking Americans to let the FBI continue three Patriot Act programs — sneak and peek searches, grabs of business records, and the designation of an individual “lone wolf” as if he or she were an agent of a foreign power — the same Obama administration has not released detailed information the extent of Americans’ civil liberties violations under their execution.
Seeking to gain such information, the Electronic Frontier Foundation made a formal Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI on September 25, 2009, asking for:
1) all records (including but not limited to FBI communications with other Justice Department components) discussing or reflecting the Bureau’s assessment of the effectiveness of the three provisions; and
2) all records discussing or reflecting any instances in which the use of the authorities granted in the three provisions were deemed to be possibly unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive, including but not limited to matters that were considered for referral to the Intelligence Oversight Board.
Under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, the EFF is within its rights to make this request, and was supposed to receive results from this FOIA request within 20 working days. As of today, nearly 8 months after EFF filed its request, it has not received the requested information from the government. In the meantime, FBI powers under these three provisions have already been extended for a year, and deliberations over the permanent extension of these provisions is ongoing in Washington.
Americans have the right to know what the FBI is doing to them. The FBI has the responsibility to follow the law. Rather than giving up, the EFF is now filing a lawsuit to force the Obama administration to follow the law and, as the President promised to do in his campaign, let the sunshine in.