FBI, NSA Stiff-Arm ACLU Request for Info on Domestic Spy Program

Monday, August 29, 2011
By Paul Martin

By IULIA FILIP
CourthouseNews.com

MANHATTAN (CN) – The ACLU sued the FBI and National Security Agency for information on the FBI’s eGuardian monitoring system, by which it collects information on “suspicious activity” from law enforcement officials across the country. More than 7,100 “Suspicious Activity Reports” have been collected, the ACLU says, for activities that may include “taking photographs of prominent buildings.”
The ACLU says the FBI took more than a year to answer its FOIA request and improperly withheld materials, and the NSA blew off its request altogether.
The ACLU claims in a federal FOIA complaint that “these records will significantly contribute to the public’s understanding of how local, state and federal authorities have interpreted the broad mandate of the eGuardian program, how they have used the potentially invasive ‘suspicious activity’ reporting system, and whether effective safeguards are in place to protect Americans against unwarranted privacy invasions or discriminatory surveillance based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or protected beliefs or activities.”
The ACLU says the government cannot regain public confidence in its integrity unless it releases the information.
“The public is increasingly concerned about the ways in which federal, state and local governments collect and use reports of Americans’ ‘suspicious activity’ and the ways in which nationwide programs for sharing such information may violate civil rights and civil liberties,” the complaint states.
“In January 2009, the FBI launched the eGuardian program to track and share information about potential terrorist threats and ‘suspicious activity’ nationwide. Through the eGuardian system, the FBI collects ‘Suspicious Activity Reports’ or ‘SARs’ from local, state, and federal enforcement and intelligence agencies. According to the FBI’s own description of the program, ‘suspicious activity’ that law enforcement officials across the country report, collect, and share includes ‘observed behavior that may be indicative of intelligence gathering or pre-operational planning related to terrorism, criminal, or other illicit intention.’ This vague and broad description may encompass activity as innocuous and commonplace as taking photographs of prominent buildings.”
The ACLU has challenged eGuardian since its inception, claiming the program may expose innocent Americans to racial profiling and other improper police practices.

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