Editor's Note

The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spy Games: Inside the convoluted plot to bring down WikiLeaks

from Wired:
In November, when a major U.S. bank wanted a strategy for taking down WikiLeaks, [CEO of HBGary Federal Aaron] Barr immediately drafted a presentation in which he suggested “cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters. This would kill the project . . .”

Faking documents seemed like a good idea, too, documents which could later be “called out” so as to make WikiLeaks look unreliable.

And Barr wanted to go further, pushing on people like civil liberties Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald — apparently hoping to threaten their livelihoods. “These are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause, such is the mentality of most business professionals,” he wrote. “Without the support of people like Glenn WikiLeaks would fold.”
Read the rest here.

Government contractors targeted Chamber of Commerce's critics

from the Los Angeles Times:
Reporting from Washington — Hoping to win a lucrative agreement with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, three data security contractors for federal defense and intelligence agencies developed a proposal to monitor and manipulate the chamber's left-leaning critics, according to recently released e-mail correspondence.

Employees of the firms compiled short dossiers on a few activists that included photographs, references to their families and charts of their relationships with other liberal and labor leaders.

The proposals were received by Hunton & Williams, a law firm that represents the chamber.

[. . .]

The firm, which also represents Bank of America, solicited a separate proposal from the security firms to help the bank deal with a threat by WikiLeaks, the international hacker organization, to release some of the bank's internal data.
Read the rest here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Firm targeting WikiLeaks cuts ties with HBGary - apologizes to reporter

from The Tech Herald: --
Dr. Alex Karp, the Co-Founder and CEO of Palantir Technologies, one of three data intelligence firms who worked to develop a systematic plan of attack against WikiLeaks and their supporters, has severed all ties with HBGary Federal and issued an apology to reporter Glenn Greenwald.


. . . The Tech Herald learned that Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies, worked together with law firm Hunton and Williams to develop a proposal for Bank of America in order to deal with the “WikiLeaks Threat.”

Hunton and Williams were recommended to Bank of America’s general counsel by the Department of Justice, according to the email chain viewed by The Tech Herald. The law firm was using the meeting to pitch Bank of America on retaining them for an internal investigation surrounding WikiLeaks.


Moreover, reporter Glenn Greenwald, who writes for Salon.com, was singled out in the proposal as a person offering a level of support to WikiLeaks that needed to be disrupted. This disruption would include making Greenwald, and others in similar situations, choose between professional preservation and cause.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Personal privacy and the right to know

from a New York Tmes editorial: --
For 45 years, the Freedom of Information of Act has invigorated American democracy by obliging the executive branch to make public a splendid range of documents. It serves the people’s right to know, while leaving out data whose disclosure could be harmful.

The law’s “exemption 7,” about facts gathered for law enforcement, omits records whose release could be “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Until now courts have unanimously agreed its purpose is to protect individuals. Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments about a case in which the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, decided “personal privacy” includes the privacy of corporations.

Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T addresses whether AT&T can prevent the F.C.C. from releasing documents about the company’s overbilling of the government. If the justices supported that interpretation, they would wreak havoc on the Freedom of Information Act. Fortunately, there’s little risk of that.
Read the rest here.

Democrats call on House panel to narrow FOIA request

from FederalTimes.com --
House Democrats are calling on the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to pare back his request to dozens of agencies to divulge details of Freedom of Information Act requests from the last five years.

The committee's request "will encumber every agency with a work-stopping diversion" and have a chilling effect on the public's willingness to make use of FOIA, Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont wrote in a letter Tuesday to the committee chairman, Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Last month, Issa asked dozens of agencies, ranging from the Justice Department to the Railroad Retirement Board, for their FOIA logs from the past five years, along with all communications with requesters and a rundown on how each request was handled.
Read the rest here.

FBI, DOJ and DEA stall release of records on bid to expand surveillance laws

from Electronic Frontier Foundation --
EFF filed a reply brief in its FOIA lawsuit seeking records from the FBI, DOJ and DEA that would justify the Administration’s need to expand federal surveillance laws like the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). The proposed expansion would require communications providers like Skype, Facebook, Blackberry and Twitter to build wiretapping capabilities right into their systems, and although we know Congress intends to turn to this issue early this year, FBI, DEA and DOJ have argued they can’t give us all the documents we asked for until the summer of 2012. To force the government to turn over documents on a timeline that would actually allow them to influence the debate, we filed a motion for partial summary judgment, asking the court to order the agencies to produce documents within 10 days.

This lawsuit is based on two separate but related FOIA requests, one of which has now been pending with the FBI for almost two years. The earlier request seeks documents on the FBI’s “Going Dark Program,” a program intended to bolster the Bureau’s electronic communications intercept capabilities that could be strengthened by new legislation. The second request, now pending for four months, seeks materials related to a legislative expansion to CALEA, including evidence of any limitations of current surveillance technologies and records of communications between DOJ agencies and technology companies, trade organizations and Congress about potential legislation.
Read the rest here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Tech world stunned at Egypt's Internet shutdown

from SFGate.com:
The Egyptian government's unprecedented shutdown of Internet and mobile phone access Friday stunned the world's technology community, which questioned whether the country can quickly recover from cutting such a vital link for commerce and communication.

The government's surprising move came in the face of widespread civil unrest, but essentially wiped the country off the world's online maps, said Jim Cowie, chief technology officer and co-founder of Renesys, a New Hampshire firm that monitors how the Internet is operating.

"It is astonishing because Egypt has so much potentially to lose in terms of credibility with the Internet community and the economic world," Cowie said. "It will set Egypt back for years in terms of its hopes of becoming a regional Internet power."
Read the rest here.

ACLU files FOIA request regarding VA Department of Transportation policies

from ACLU press release:
Winchester, VA - The ACLU of Virginia has filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) seeking information about policies and practices affecting the destruction of the possessions of homeless persons who use land under the agency's control.

The ACLU's request comes in the wake of a January 5 incident in which a company under contract with VDOT destroyed a homeless encampment along Interstate 81 at Exit 315 near Winchester. According to news reports at least four homeless men had been using the property for months when road maintenance crews demolished the encampment.

The homeless men were not present at the time, but apparently lost tents, sleeping bags, camping gear, clothes, canned food and medication. At least one man lost his wallet, including his Social Security Card and birth certificate. The men received no advance notice that their property would be destroyed.

According to court precedents homeless persons, even while located on right-of-ways or other state property, have constitutional rights regarding their possessions.

"Federal courts have consistently ruled that homeless persons have an expectation of privacy that includes the right to be notified before their property can be seized or destroyed," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. "They may be homeless, but they are still entitled to the same constitutional protections that apply to the rest of us."
Read the rest here.