NSA: Responding To This FOIA Request Would Help ‘Our Adversaries’

The letter warns that any response to this particular Freedom of Information Act request for data would help the NSA's adversaries. Whoever they are.
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    The NSA's headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

    The NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

    Shortly after the Guardian and Washington Post published their Verizon and PRISM stories, I filed a freedom of information request with the NSA seeking any personal data the agency has about me. I didn’t expect an answer, but yesterday I received a letter signed by Pamela Phillips, the Chief FOIA Officer at the agency (which really freaked out my wife when she picked up our mail).

    The letter, a denial, includes what is known as a Glomar response – neither a confirmation nor a denial that the agency has my metadata. It also warns that any response would help “our adversaries”:

    Any positive or negative response on a request-by-request basis would allow our adversaries to accumulate information and draw conclusions about the NSA’s technical capabilities, sources, and methods.

    Our adversaries are likely to evaluate all public responses related to these programs.

    Were we to provide positive or negative responses to requests such as yours, our adversaries’ compilation of the information provided would reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.

    The letter helpfully states that there are “no assessable fees for the request.”

    It also contains a paragraph about the ways in which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has authorized the NSA to “acquire telephone metadata, such as the telephone numbers dialed and length of calls, but not the content of [sic] call or the names of the communicants.” The court was created in 1978, as ProPublica recently laid out in our surveillance timeline.

    The letter also mentions section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the government has cited to justify phone metadata collection.

    So where does this leave me? According to Aaron Mackey, a staff attorney at theReporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, “If you wanted to see those records you would have to file a lawsuit.”

    I reached out the NSA, to ask among other things, how many other requests about metadata they’ve received. They didn’t immediately respond.

    This article originally was published at ProPublica, where its author Jeff Larson is News Applications developer.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News editorial policy.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News editorial policy.

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