Boing Boing 

FBI photo-redaction is surprisingly artistic


When you use the Freedom of Information Act to prise loose a document from the FBI, they are prone to liberal redactions; the results are surprisingly artistic, especially when it comes to photos and other graphics.

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Elements of Spook Style

The terrible writing and design of spook memos and Powerpoint slides have come to the fore since June 2013. However, that doesn't mean that there's not some pretty good style guides available for America's brave spooks. USA USA USA.

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Illinois State Cops blew $250K on "terrorist-catching" Stingray surveillance gadgets


Michael says, "New documents released on MuckRock show the Illinois State Police crying "Terrorist" in order to get funding and approval for a $250,000 Stingray cell snooping system, even though, as Mike Masnick at Techdirt notes, the technology is being used to fight regular crime. The terms of service on the device actually prevent officers from seeking a warrant to use it. MuckRock currently has a crowdfunding campaign to fund similar requests across the country."

FBI's 83-page glossary of leetspeak

Muckrock filed a FOI request for the FBI's list of Twitter slang and "leetspeak" and got back an insane, 83-page glossary of terms that the Feebs use to spy on the kids (think "AYFKMWTS") (via Sean Bonner)

FOIA Machine party in San Francisco

Alan sez, "The Center for Investigative Reporting's 'FOIA Machine' is hosting an Open Beta launch event Wednesday, June 25 at Mother Jones's San Francisco office. This was one of the stretch goals from their successful Kickstarter but the event is open to anyone who pre-registers. There will also be a livestreamed roundtable discussion centered on investigative journalism."

Crowdfunding mass FOIA requests on police use of "Stingray" warrantless spying devices

Michael from Muckrock sez, "After scouring American police departments (via public records requests) for drone usage, MuckRock is setting its sights a little lower with a crowdfunding campaign hoping to fund thousands of public records request on how local agencies are using fake cell phone towers, warrantless wiretaps, and other techniques to get your cell phone to phone home."

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How to request your US Border file (and what you're likely to get)


Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the United States Customs and Border Protection agency for his own travel records, including the notoriously comprehensive "Passenger Name Record" -- what he got was '72 pages of shit,' a redacted jumble of arbitrarily collected and retained nonsense. He didn't get his PNR. If you want to give it a try, he's signposted the procedure.

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Report: US pursuing active criminal case against Wikileaks' Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is the target of “a multi-subject investigation" by the FBI, US court documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request reveal.

What are the stupid vanity-plate rules in your state?

Michael from Muckrock writes, "STFU: That's one of the license plates Virginia won't let its citizens register. In fact, a MuckRock user recently obtained a list of over 500 pages of rejected license plate suggestions, and now the site wants to take the look national, and is asking for users to sponsor-a-state (covering cost of stamps, etc) or just suggest the right place to file with."

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Appeals court orders Obama administration to disclose the legal theory for assassination of Americans

The Obama administration has lost a high-stakes lawsuit brought against it by the New York Times and the ACLU over its refusal to divulge the legal basis for its extrajudicial assassination program against US citizens. The Obama administration declared that it had the right to assassinate Americans overseas, far from the field of battle, on the basis of a secret legal theory. When it refused to divulge that theory in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, the Times and the ACLU sued. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has found in the Times's and ACLU's favor.

The Obama administration had insisted that the legal memo in question was protected as a national security secret. However, the court found that because the administration had made statements about the memo, assuring the public that the assassinations were legal, it had waived its right to keep the memo a secret. There's no work on whether the administration will appeal to the Supreme Court.

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Army comes clean about its recruitment AI, accidentally discloses info about pedophile- and terrorist-catching chatbots that roam the net

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "Not too long ago, Boing Boing covered EFF's (at the time) unsuccessful attempt to retreive records about Sgt. Star (the Army's recruiter-bot) using the Freedom of Information Act. We've now received the files and compiled our research: It turns out Sgt. Star isn't the only government chatbot -- the FBI and CIA had them first.

The information about the terrorist/child-abuser bots only came to light because the spy agencies failed to fully redact their responses (the type was legible through the black strikeouts).

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Help Muckrock scour DHS social media spying guidelines and figure out what to FOIA next

Michael from Muckrock sez, "With a Freedom of Information Act request, MuckRock has received copies of two of the guides Homeland Security uses to monitor social media, one on standard procedures and a desktop binder for analysts. Now we're asking for help to go through it: See something worth digging into? Say something, and share it with others so we know what to FOIA next."

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Infographic: EFF's Freedom of Information Act files


Hugh from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "Sunshine Week may be just seven days in March, but fighting for government transparency is a year-round mission for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In fact, it's not unusual for litigation over public records to drag on for years upon years. To help make sense of it all, here's a handy infographic illustrating EFF's current Freedom of Information Act caseload." (Thanks, Hugh!)

NYPD claims its Freedom of Information Act policy is a secret "attorney-client communications"


The NYPD runs an intelligence agency that is even more secretive, and practically as corrupt as the NSA. They even fly their own intelligence officers to the scene of terrorist attacks overseas (and interfere with real investigations). What's more, the NYPD has invented its own, extra-legal system of "classified" documents that it has unilaterally decided it doesn't have to provide to the public in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Shawn Musgrave used Muckrock sent the NYPD a FOIA request for its FOIA manual -- the guidelines by which it decides whether or not it will obey the law requiring it to share its internal workings with the public who pay for them -- only to have the NYPD refuse to provide it, because it is "privileged attorney-client work-product."

As Musgrave says, "Handbooks and training materials hardly qualify as 'confidential communications,' particularly when the subject matter is transparency itself."

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Congress was giving spies a pass back in 1975, too


If you are outraged by American spies getting a free pass from their political masters (and you really should be), remember that this is an age-old tradition. Matt Stoller revisits the 1975 Congressional hearings in which radical Congresswoman Bella Abzug grilled CIA director William Colby over the CIA's records of the membership rolls of peaceful, domestic protest groups, only to have Arizona Congressman Sam Steiger suck up to the spook-in-chief, expressing concern that anti-American terrorists could destroy the CIA by sending it too many Freedom of Information Act requests.

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Army won't answer Freedom of Information Request on its SGT STAR AI chatbot

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "Seven years ago, the U.S. Army launched the SGT STAR program, which uses a virtual recruiter (an AI chatbot) to talk to potential soldiers. We put in a FOIA request for a bunch of documents related to the program, including current and historical input/output scripts. So far, the Army Research and Marketing Group--which is supposed to help with transparency--hasn't responded."

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FBI agent tries to copyright super-secret torture manual, inadvertently makes it public

The ACLU has spent years in court trying to get a look at a top-secret FBI interrogation manual that referred to the CIA's notorious KUBARK torture manual. The FBI released a heavily redacted version at one point -- so redacted as to be useless for determining whether its recommendations were constitutional.

However, it turns out that the FBI agent who wrote the manual sent a copy to the Library of Congress in order to register a copyright in it -- in his name! (Government documents are not copyrightable, but even if they were, the copyright would vest with the agent's employer, not the agent himself). A Mother Jones reporter discovered the unredacted manual at the Library of Congress last week, and tipped off the ACLU about it.

Anyone can inspect the manual on request. Go see for yourself!

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DHS stops NYT reporters at border, lies about it

Two New York Times reporters are suing the DHS, because the agency stopped them and questioned them extensively at the border, typing their answers into a computer, and then later insisted first that they weren't required to search for records, and then that they had no records at all on the men.

NSA FOIA requests up 988%

No surprise that the NSA is facing its largest-ever increase in Freedom of Information Act requests: up 988 percent. Don't worry, though: the agency has a strategy for coping with the floodtide of queries about warrantless spying: it just denies all of them.

Punk Freedom of Information Access ninja learns how to beat FBI obfuscation, so they shut him out


Mike sez, "In Mother Jones, Will Potter profiles Ryan Shapiro, a punk rocker-turned-PhD student who wanted to study how the FBI monitors animal-rights activists. Through trial and error, and a lot of digging, he devised a perfectly legal, highly effective strategy to unearth sensitive documents from the bureau's 'byzantine' filing system.

In short, he got too smart for the feds, so they've cut him off. Now Shapiro has sued the FBI to release some 350,000 documents he's requested under FOIA. If the court buys the FBI's argument here, open-government groups say it could make it harder for scholars and journalists to keep tabs on federal agencies. Potter explains:"

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CBC's flagship news program sold favorable coverage to the Harper government, then lied about it

Jesse Brown from the Canadaland podcast (RSS) writes: "CBC News has made a bad error in judgment. They sold news coverage to the Harper government, who were seeking publicity for a shipwreck salvaging expedition which, in a federal Minister's words, is an effort to "enhance" Canada's sovereignty claims in the Arctic. The government is embroiled in a land claim dispute with Russia; both nations covet the massive oil and gas deposits that are thought to reside beneath the the Arctic Ocean. The CBC covered the government's (fruitless) salvage expedition with fawning stories across its platforms: there's a dedicated news website and a two-part documentary that aired on The National, CBC's flagship newscast. CBC Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge himself reported live from the Arctic on a Parks Canada boat, at no time informing viewers that the subjects of his story had paid for his presence."

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NSA spokesmen told to just say "9/11" to deflect criticism

Al Jazeera used the Freedom of Information Act to get the NSA to disclose its talking points for public speaking events. The least surprising of these is the cheap invocation of 9/11 as an excuse for any wrongdoing, phrased thus: "I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent." It's the Giuliani Gambit, and it's as repellent as it is obvious.

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Librarian to sister superior, 1948: comic books are good for kids!


Shawn from Muckrock sez, "MuckRock and MIT asked more than 1,200 libraries across Massachusetts for records of book challenges. We didn't find much, because it's Massachusetts in 2013, but the few we did find were solid gold. One such nugget was a letter from 1948, in which a snarky anonymous librarian essentially tells the local sister superior to stop trying to keep comic books away from sixth graders. In her words, 'The Library makes a practice of having all kinds of books available for all kinds of people.'"

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DEA instructions for testing bills for cocaine


Michael from Muckrock sez, "Here's a science experiment that would catch the attention of high schoolers: Testing cash for cocaine traces in seven easy steps, courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Agency."

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Crowdfunding $300 to make the NSA disclose its IT meltdowns

Michael from Muckrock sez, "The Wall Street Journal reported today that the National Security Agency's massive data storage center in Bluffdale, Utah has melted down at least 10 times in the past 13 months. While many details regarding the center are classified, MuckRock has been doggedly pursuing documents that pry open its operational details, including its electrical bill."

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NSA freedom of information requests up 1000% post-Snowden

Michael Morisy from Muckrock sez, "A veritable FOIA frenzy ensued in 2013 following a series of leaks about NSA surveillance programs, recently released documents show.

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NSA contracted with notorious French spy-tech company VUPEN

Michael from Muckrock sez, ""Documents requested by MuckRock from the National Security Agency show it had a contract with the French security researcher VUPEN whose founder and CEO Chaouki Bekrar puckishly touts himself as the 'Darth Vader of Cybersecurity.' While the NSA redacted the price of the subscription, VUPEN is apparently hoping the year-long contract is a sign of things to come: It recently tweeted it was setting up shop in Maryland."

VUPEN are also the war criminals who flog zero-day exploits to repressive governments with terrible human-rights records to help them spy on dissidents.

Naturally, it was a no-bid contract.

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DoD office can't process FOIAs because fax machine broken, no money for new one

MuckRock News reports that Freedom of Information Act requests faxed to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) started coming back as undeliverable a couple weeks ago. The OSD confirms their fax machine is down, possibly for another few months, because there's no money in their tens of billions of dollars a year budget for a new one, and they can't switch to email as a request method. "The office that oversees the most powerful military in history (not to mention the best-funded) is unable to project when its single fax machine will once again be operational."

Doomed to repeat history: Kafkaesque FBI watchlist screwups of the 1940s


Michael from Muckrock sez, "The problems with various government watch lists, particularly the TSA's, are well known, but a new release of documents shows just how problematic large-scale government tracking can be: A recent FOIA request to the FBI for the files on late Irving Adler, activist, turned up plenty of reading material, but it was about the wrong Irving: An examination of documents showed that the files another Irving Adler, an Army veteran, found himself on the wrong end of intense questioning despite universal assertions that he was a 'loyal and patriotic American."

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You can't FOIA the list of who visits White House, US federal appeals court rules

Today, a federal appeals court ruled that the White House visitor list--who comes to talk to the president and his staff--is not public information, and not subject to Freedom of Information Act disclosure.