When the Irish government updated its Freedom of Information law, it promised something fit for the computer era. To say it did not deliver is rather an understatement.
The new bill (PDF) says: "the FOI body shall take reasonable steps to search for and extract the records to which the request relates, having due regard to the steps that would be considered reasonable if the records were held in paper format."
Get that? The standard for whether a FOI request is reasonable is whether it would be easy to get if the records were on paper and in a filing cabinet. If the records can be retrieved from a database with one click, but would take a hundred years with a filing cabinet, then the records can remain secret forever, because clicking once is deemed unreasonable.
As Simon McGarr puts it: "The Irish State wishes to uninvent computers.
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After a long wrangle, and no thanks to MIT, the Secret Service has begun to honor the court order that requires it to release Aaron Swartz's files. The first 100 pages -- albeit heavily redacted -- were just released. Kevin Poulsen, the Wired reporter who filed the Freedom of Information Act request that liberated the files, has posted some preliminary analysis of them. The Feds were particularly interested in the "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto," a document Aaron helped to write in 2008. The manifesto -- and subsequent statements by Aaron -- make the case that access to scientific and scholarly knowledge is a human right. The full Aaron Swartz files run 14,500 pages, according to the Secret Service's own estimate.
I was interested to note that much of the analysis of Swartz's materials was undertaken by SAIC, the mystery-shrouded, massive private military/government contractor that is often described as the largest privately held company in the world.
Update: Jake Appelbaum corrects me: "I've been reading what is released of one of the files for Aaron. I
think that SAIC in these documents means 'Special Agent In Charge' and
isn't actually the motherfuckers at SAIC.
Reading this report makes my fucking blood boil,
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The Pentagon has classified the list of groups that the USA believes itself to be at war with. They say that releasing a list of the groups that it considers to itself to be fighting could be used by those groups to boast about the fact that America takes them seriously, and thus drum up recruits. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the most transparent administration in history.
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Michael Morisy sez, "Back when the National Security Agency still measured data in megabytes rather than by the square mile of servers, the agency took it upon itself to catalogue the output of a newswire service and publications of the wider intelligence community, new documents show.
"The NSA database's called ANCHORY catalogs intelligence analysis and reports from the CIA, State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency, plus Reuters for good measure. The program comes to (dim) light following a FOIA request inspired by Christopher Soghoian observation that scouring LinkedIn profiles might yield some good counter-surveillance clues."
A glimpse into ANCHORY, NSA's intelligence catalog database
Ed Felten comments on the news that MIT has moved to delay the release of the Secret Service files on Aaron Swartz:
It seems unlikely that MIT will find information redactable under FOIA that hasn’t already been redacted by the Secret Service.
But there are two things that MIT’s filing will more likely achieve. First, it will delay the disclosure of facts about MIT’s role in the Swartz investigation. Second, it will help MIT prepare its public-relations response to whatever is in the documents.
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A declassified mission transcript from Apollo 10 (PDF) includes a passage in which the spacemen argue about whose turd is floating weightlessly through the capsule.
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
My friend Aaron Swartz's suicide, just over six months ago, brought attention to MIT's role in his prosecution over downloading scholarly articles from their network. JSTOR, the service that hosted the files Aaron was accused of downloading, dropped its case against him, and it was widely reported that the only reason the Justice Department was able to go ahead with its threats of decades of time in prison for Aaron was MIT's insistence on pressing the case against him. MIT's administration was so shaken by the negative publicity following Aaron's death that they commissioned professor Hal Abelson (a good guy, in my experience) to investigate the university's role in his prosecution.
Now, though, MIT has blocked a Freedom of Information Act suit by Wired's Kevin Poulsen aimed at forcing the Secret Service to release their files on Aaron. A court recently ordered the Secret Service to stop screwing around and release Aaron's file, but before that could happen, MIT intervened, arguing that if the world could see the files, they would know the names of the MIT employees who insisted that Aaron deserved to go to jail for what amounted to checking too many books out of the library. MIT argues that its employees would potentially face retaliation (though not, presumably, threats of felony prosecutions, million-dollar fines, and decades in prison) if their names were known.
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Leszek sez, "The Berkeley-based Center For Investigative Reporting is running a Kickstarter to create the FOIA Machine
, an automated online system to allow easy submission and tracking of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests by anyone."
Wired reporter Kevin Pouslsen has had a major victory in his legal battle against the US Secret Service over Aaron Swartz's files
. The Secret Service refused to release the thousands of pages of files they had compiled on Aaron, but yesterday, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered them to "promptly release to Plaintiff all responsive documents that it has gathered thus far and shall continue to produce additional responsive documents that it locates on a rolling basis." The Secret Service has until August 5 to produce a timetable for the documents' release.
Clayton Seymour, a Navy vet, was outraged to discover that his Freedom of Information Act request to the NSA to see his file was rejected because telling him what information they'd gathered in secret would expose their secret information-gathering techniques
. Obama's 2009 Executive Order 13526 requires all government agencies to make all records public, other than in exceptional circumstances. The NSA has effectively crammed all
of its information into an exceptional circumstance because to disclose anything would lead to disclosure of its methods. This is the basis on which it is rejecting all FOIA requests.
Michael from MuckRock sez,
It's difficult, but not impossible, to get info the old fashioned way from the NSA, using the Freedom of Information Act. Here's MuckRock's guide to getting as much as you can with as little hassle as possible, and a few requests to follow and play along with at home:
* Files on Edward Snowden
* Documents on the NSA's public ribbon cutting ceremony for its Utah Data Center
* A request for the book Special Series Crisis Collection Volume 2
The good news? The NSA isn't the slowest agency to get info out of: It manages to be speedier than the FBI, the TSA and U.S Forest Service.
FOIAing the NSA: What you can get, what you can't and where to start
The DHS has responded to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU asking when and how it decides whose laptop to search at the border. It explained its legal rationale for conducting these searches with a blank page:
On Page 18 of the 52-page document under the section entitled “First Amendment,” several paragraphs are completely blacked out. They simply end with the sentence: “The laptop border searches in the [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and [Customs and Border Protection] do not violate travelers’ First Amendment rights as defined by the courts."
More excellence from "the most transparent administration in American history." Also, the DHS rejected claims that it should limit searches to situations where it had reasonable grounds for suspicion, because then they would have to explain their suspicion:
First, commonplace decisions to search electronic devices might be opened to litigation challenging the reasons for the search. In addition to interfering with a carefully constructed border security system, the litigation could directly undermine national security by requiring the government to produce sensitive investigative and national security information to justify some of the most critical searches. Even a policy change entirely unenforceable by courts might be problematic; we have been presented with some noteworthy CBP and ICE success stories based on hard-to-articulate intuitions or hunches based on officer experience and judgment. Under a reasonable suspicion requirement, officers might hesitate to search an individual's device without the presence of articulable factors capable of being formally defended, despite having an intuition or hunch based on experience that justified a search.
Feds say they can search your laptop at the border but won’t say why [Cyrus Farivar/Ars Technica]
Wired's Kim Zetter rounds up some of the highlights from Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research [PDF], an NSA guide to finding unintentionally published confidential material on the Web produced by the NSA and released in response to a Muckrock Freedom of Information Act request. As Zetter notes, the tactics discussed as described as legal, but are the kind of thing that weev is doing 3.5 years in a Federal pen for:
Want to find spreadsheets full of passwords in Russia? Type “filetype:xls site:ru login.” Even on websites written in non-English languages the terms “login,” “userid,” and “password” are generally written in English, the authors helpfully point out.
Misconfigured web servers “that list the contents of directories not intended to be on the web often offer a rich load of information to Google hackers,” the authors write, then offer a command to exploit these vulnerabilities — intitle: “index of” site:kr password.
“Nothing I am going to describe to you is illegal, nor does it in any way involve accessing unauthorized data,” the authors assert in their book. Instead it “involves using publicly available search engines to access publicly available information that almost certainly was not intended for public distribution.” You know, sort of like the “hacking” for which Andrew “weev” Aurenheimer was recently sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for obtaining publicly accessible information from AT&T’s website.
Use These Secret NSA Google Search Tips to Become Your Own Spy Agency
Michael from MuckRock sez,
The Supreme Court ruled this morning that states have the right to restrict public records access to locals, meaning one more hurdle to would-be muckrakers everywhere. Even in-state requesters are harmed: It means one more bureaucratic hurdle and another excuse for agencies to respond in paper rather than electronically.
MuckRock has helped file requests in all 50 states -- important for projects like the Drone Census -- and we're looking for more volunteers to help ensure transparency from sea to shining sea.
* New Hampshire
* New Jersey
If you live in one of the above, fill out a simple form and we can help ensure that sunshine isn't restricted depending on where you live:
To keep filing in all 50 states, MuckRock needs your help
Muckrock Michael sez, "Today MuckRock's Mara Berg chronicles the saga of a particular public records request I put in for the following:
A copy of the backing track used during Beyonce's Inauguration performance, as well as copies of other backing tracks created in preparation for Inauguration events, whether or not they were actually used.
Unfortunately, while we received (some) of the requested documents, two outside legal experts and the U.S. Marines Corps have warned us strongly
against publishing what we have. The reason? Copyright."