“Talking points” aren’t deliberative documents, interagency memos, or documents containing sensitive personal information [b(5), b(6)]. Neither are they documents that might expose law enforcement sources or investigative techniques [b7(D) and 7(E)].They are exactly what the name says they are: points to be used when discussing these issues in Congressional hearings or during press conferences. They are indicative of the public stances the FBI takes on certain issues. There’s nothing secret about them, or at least there shouldn’t be.
If you’re a UK-based journalist who’s reported on the Snowden leaks, it’s safe to say you’re under investigation. Not only are you being investigated, but that investigation itself is so secret, it can’t be discussed. The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher sent a Freedom of Information request to London’s Metropolitan Police (the Met) for more information about the investigation — something twice publiclyconfirmed by Met representatives.
But when asked specifically for information on the ongoing investigation, the agency had nothing to say.
[T]he Metropolitan Police… says everything about the investigation’s existence is a secret and too dangerous to disclose. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from this reporter, the force has repeatedly refused to release any information about the status of the investigation, how many officers are working on it, or how much taxpayer money has been spent on it. The Met wrote in its response:
“to confirm or deny whether we hold any information concerning any current or previous investigations into the alleged actions of Edward Snowden could potentially be misused proving detrimental to national security.’
In this current environment, where there is a possibility of increased threat of terrorist activity, providing any details even to confirm or deny that any information exists could assist any group or persons who wish to cause harm to the people of the nation which would undermine the safeguarding of national security.”
Open government advocates file requests for public records because it’s not only our right, but our duty as citizens to find out what the government is doing in our name, how officials are spending our tax dollars, what kinds of mistakes they’re making, what problems our communities face, and how we can improve society through policy changes.
Unfortunately, some public officials interpret transparency as a threat, best answered not with documents, but intimidation, insults, and other forms of retaliation.
In this fourth and final round of The Foilies—EFF’s Sunshine Week “awards” for outrageous experiences in pursuing public records—we’re focusing on how government agencies (and one rock star) lashed out at citizens and journalists for attempting to unearth unflattering truths. We’ll also cover a few cases where that behavior had consequences.
As you may know, we’ve been covering the story of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and his campaign against Google. A few years ago, we noted how bizarre it was that Hood and other state Attorneys General seemed to be blaming Google for all kinds of bad things online. It seemed to show a fundamental lack of understanding about how the internet (and the law!) worked. Of course, things became somewhat more “understandable” when emails leaked in the Sony Hack revealed that the MPAA had an entire “Project Goliath” designed around attacking Google, and the centerpiece of it was funding Jim Hood’s investigation into Google, including handling most of the lawyering, writing up Hood’s letters to Google and even the “civil investigative demand” (CID — basically a subpoena) that he could send.
Hood lashed out angrily about all of this, even as the NY Times revealed that the metadata on the letter he sent Google showed that it was really written by top MPAA lawyers. Hood continued to angrily lash out, demonstrating how little he seemed to understand about the internet. He made claims that were simply untrue — including pretending that Google would take users to Silk Road, the dark market hidden site that could never be found via a Google search. Hood also dared reporters to find any evidence of funding from Hollywood, and it didn’t take us long to find direct campaign contributions to his PAC from the MPAA and others.
Given all of this, we filed a Mississippi Public Records request with his office, seeking his email communications with the MPAA, its top lawyers and with the Digital Citizens Alliance, an MPAA front-group that has released highly questionable studies on “piracy” and just so happened to have hired Hood’s close friend Mike Moore to lobby Hood in Mississippi. Moore was the Mississippi Attorney General before Hood and helped Hood get into politics.
We’ve had to go back and forth with Hood’s office a few times. First, his office noted that Google had actually filed a similar request, and wanted to know if we were working for Google in making the request. We had no idea Google made such a request and certainly were not working on behalf of Google in making our request — but Hood’s office helpfully forwarded us Google’s request, which was actually a hell of a lot more detailed and comprehensive than our own. This actually is helpful in pointing to some other areas of interest to explore.
However, after some more back and forth, Hood’s office first said that it would refuse to share the emails between Hood and the MPAA’s lawyers as they “constitute attorney-client communications” or “attorney work product” and that finding the rest of the emails would… require an upfront payment of $2,103.10
If the US intelligence committee is concerned about the status of “hearts and minds” in its ongoing NSA v. Snowden battle, it won’t be winning anyone over with its latest response to a FOIA request.
Various representatives of the intelligence community have asserted (sometimes repeatedly) that Snowden’s leaks have caused irreparable harm to intelligence-gathering efforts and placed the nation in “grave danger.” But when given the chance to show the public how much damage has been done, it declares everything on the subject too sensitive to release. EVERYTHING.