Here’s a sobering story.
Two weeks ago when USA TODAY published their famous story about a database of telephone records maintained by the NSA on all Americans, I decided to test my luck and see if I can get a copy of those records via a Privacy Act request. Following instructions on NSA’s FOIA page, I sent them a digitally signed email with my request (I have never seen any other federal agency accept signed email in liue of a written request). The email is as follows:
Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. subsection 552 and the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. section 552a, please furnish me with copies of all records about me indexed to my name, social security number and phones numbers specified below. To help identify information about me in your record systems, I am providing the following required information…
And the reply? It went like this:
Because of the classified nature of the National Security Agency’s efforts to prevent and protect against terrorist attacks, the fact of whether or not any specific technique or method or activity is employed in that effort is exempt from release pursuant to the exemption provisions of the FOIA.
We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records responsive to your request. The fact of the existence or non-existence of responsive records is a currently and properly classified matter in accordance with Executive Order 12958, as amended. Thus, your request is denied pursuant to the first exemption of the FOIA, which provides that the FOIA does not apply to matters that are specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign relations and are properly classified pursuant to such Executive Order.
Moreover, the third exemption of the FOIA provides for the withholding of information specifically protected from disclosure by statute. Thus, your request is also denied because the fact of the existence or non-existence of the information is exempted from disclosure pursuant to the third exemption. The specific statutes applicable in this case are Title 18 U.S. Code 798; Title 50 U.S. Code 403-1(i); and Section 6, Public Law 86-36 (50 U.S. Code 402 note)…