FBI’s Methods On Spying Journalists Should Remain Disclosed, Judge Rules
Mar 16, 2017 12:30 PM EDT
A federal judge is agreeing with the FBI's contention that publicly disclosing its methods on how it spies on journalists could impede national security. The Freedom of the Press Foundation has filed A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to challenge FBI procedures surrounding the agency's protocol when issuing National Security Letters (NSLs) against media members.
According to Ars Technica, an NSL allows the bureau to obtain "subscriber information and toll billing record information, or electronic communication transactional records" from third-party wire or electronic communication providers, without a court warrant. The information is obtained only if it is relevant to an authorized investigation conducted by FBI to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.
Judge Gilliam, ruled on Monday that the FBI described with particularity that the withheld documents all contained non-public information about the FBI's investigative techniques and procedures. With these pages, NSLs are not only described as an investigative technique but also some form of information that explains the circumstances under which the techniques should be used, ways to analyze the information gathered through these techniques, and the current focus of the FBI's investigations.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation based in San Francisco sued the government in 2015 arguing that keeping the information secret was chilling the press and its sources. The suit surfaced two years after The Associated Press revealed that the Justice Department had secretly seized telephone records for up to 20 lines used by the AP's reporters and editors as part of an investigation in 2013 to dig out a Yemeni-based terror plot.
As part of the fallout, the Justice Department updated its media guidelines in 2013 and set new standards about when subpoenas could target journalists but those rules did not address NSLs. Meanwhile, a judge quotes another opinion on the topic saying, "While the FBI's search may not have been perfect, plaintiff was 'entitled to a reasonable search for records, not a perfect one."