Monday, August 19, 2013

NSA's Response To My FOIA Request

Following the news that the National Security Agency (NSA) is maintaining a mass electronic surveillance data mining program called PRISM, I began to wonder what specific information the NSA is actually maintaining about me.  I decided to see if I could find out and submitted a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  The exact procedure for submitting a FOIA request varies slightly from agency to agency.  Fortunately the NSA makes it easy by providing a method for submitting the request online (available here).   The form only asks for your contact information (name, email, physical address and phone number) and a description of the records you seek (up to 5000 characters).  In my case I requested "any and all records pertaining to my person".  I submitted the request on June 13, 2013 and just over a week later I received a response in the mail.

What arrived was a three page letter.  They started by acknowledging the request (how and when they received it) and assigned it a case number.  They go on to state their mission is to, "collect, process, and disseminate communications or signals intelligence information for intelligence and counter intelligence purposes and to support military operations" and cite the executive order that defines their roles and responsibilities.  The letter then addresses the, "considerable speculation about two NSA intelligence programs in the press/media."

I won't recite the next page and a half of  legalese that follows however, it can be boiled down to one sentence:

"your request is denied because the fact of the existence or non-existence of responsive records is a currently and properly classified matter"

That's it in a nutshell. They are withholding the information not because the information may contain some classified secret but because I'm simply not allowed to know if they have it or not.

A copy of the letter is below:

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