Domestically Spooked

This Fall I am taking a great class on Transparency & Democracy (syllabus) taught by Prof. Michael Schudson. We are talking about the history of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and trying to puzzle out what sorts of cultural forces accounted for an indisputable rise in transparency and openness in American society. We are taking a fascinating journey through the history of social movements in the 60s and 70s and reading about the Free Speech movement, SDS, the feminist movement, the gay liberation movement, and tabloid talk shows.

This summer I had also heard a great presentation by Phil Lapsley at the Last HOPE conference on The Hackers View of FOIA. I learned a great deal of practical information about how to properly file a FOIA request, a few fun FOIA hacks (hint: an agency’s FOIA logs are FOIA’able), and about www.getmyfbifile.com (the NSA has their own easy to use FOIA form).  The main value of Get My FBI file are the office addresses it contains. Although requesting your intelligence files may put an end to any of your delusions that you were important enough to have a file about you, I decided to take the plunge. In my case, I imagined I might not have the security clearance to see my own file – I’m one of those “disposable spooks” whose very existence will always be fervently denied.

As it turned out, my ego didn’t even get brushed, never mind bruised. The NSA has now officially responded that they can “neither confirm nor deny” any intelligence records. In fact, I think I received a boilerplate response letter, which sure makes it sound like the NSA is engaged in widespread domestic spying. So, judge for yourselves and get involved and support the EFF! The spirit of FOIA wants information to be free – Does the NSA answer to anyone for any of its activities anymore?

You may aware that the NSA/CSS targets unspecified persons or entities involved in terrorism as part of the nation’s efforts to prevent and protect against terrorist attacks. However, because of the classified nature of the National Security Agency’s efforts, we can neither confirm nor deny whether intelligence records relating to you exist, or whether any specific technique method or activity is employed in those efforts.

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