January 08, 2001, 10:36 AM — The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation plans to release 3,000 pages of documents pertaining to its Carnivore e-mail surveillance system in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made by civil liberties and privacy groups.
The FBI laid out its schedule for the release of the documents in a filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia late Wednesday.
The FBI told the court, which earlier this month ordered the agency to provide information about how it planned to release the documents, that it has to review the 3,000 documents page by page to determine what can be released under FOIA, an FBI spokesman said Thursday. The FBI can redact certain information based on FIOA exemptions covering national security, privacy and other concerns. The FBI plans to release the first batch of documents within 45 days, the spokesman said.
But the FBI provided no indication of what portion of the 3,000 documents would be released within that time span, and that is unacceptable to the privacy and civil liberties organizations pressing the FIOA case. Subsequent releases of documents will occur in 45 day intervals, the FBI said in its filing.
"I just don't consider this expedited, especially since we don't really know what it means in terms of time," said David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). "Under this, they could process one page every 45 days."
It would have been clearer if the FBI had pledged to release a specific number of pages within each 45-day interval so that it would be possible to estimate when the process would end, Sobel said.
EPIC and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the FOIA request asking for all agency records related to Carnivore and other FBI electronic surveillance tools in July. [See "ACLU Investigating 'Carnivore's' Diet," July 17.] Those records may include letters, e-mail messages, tape recordings, technical manuals, computer-source code and object code.
Sobel said it wasn't clear what bearing the FBI's court filing on Wednesday would have on the request for the computer code. In any case, EPIC most likely will ask the judge to revise the schedule put forth by the FBI, Sobel added.
Carnivore has been used by the FBI in criminal and national security investigations to read the e-mail of suspects and determine with whom the suspects are exchanging e-mail. The FBI has said its use is legal under U.S. wiretap law, but EPIC, the ACLU and some members of Congress aren't convinced that Carnivore meets those strict guidelines.
The FBI has said that it is seeking a university or independent laboratory to conduct verification and validation of the Carnivore system.
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