ICE Releases Documents Detailing Electronic Surveillance Problems . . . and then Demands Them Back a Year Later
November 5, 2012 | By Jennifer Lynch
This is a first for us in all of EFF’s history of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation—Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has demanded we return records it gave us more than a year ago. The release of these documents doesn’t endanger national security or create a risk to an ongoing law enforcement investigation. Instead, it seems that ICE simply wants to stymie further FOIA requests from EFF as we try to get answers about the government’s electronic surveillance procedures.
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It took ICE almost a year to get back to us on the narrowed request, and when it did, its response was frustrating. Not only did the agency decide that it would still be too burdensome to conduct any kind of a search for similar records, but ICE also told us it never should have turned over the original records in the first place—and it wanted them back. The problem for ICE is, these records have already been in the public’s hands for over six months—we filed them as an exhibit (pdf) in our FOIA litigation (pdf) in March 2012, and they’re readily available on the PACER docket for the case (or from the Internet Archive).
This is yet another example of the federal government failing to comply with the letter and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act—reverting to secrecy when it should be promoting transparency. It’s hard to imagine what harm could come from the release of these documents. ICE was careful to block out any information in the records that would identify the target of the investigation, and the information that isn’t blocked out seems to reinforce the government’s position on CALEA.
And it’s another disappointment from an administration that lauded its commitment to transparency on the first day the President took office four years ago. We can only hope that if the President wins this tight election, he’ll use the next four years to fulfill this commitment.