The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was designed to facilitate transparency in matters of government, allowing members of the public to access to Federal agency records in order to hold the ruling classes accountable. An American journalist, though, is seeking to push the boundaries of the FOIA (or exploit them, depending on your perspective) to get her hands on episodes of the new season of Game of Thrones, set to premiere this Sunday (24th April).
Last week, Game of Thrones co-creator D.B. Weiss let slip that President Barack Obama was in possession of a number of episode screeners for new season, the only person outside of HBO allowed to see them. “He’s the leader of the free world,” Weiss revealed. “When the commander-in-chief says, ‘I want to see advanced episodes,’ what are you gonna do?”
Armed with this knowledge, Refinery29 writer Vanessa Golembewski decided to “test the limits of the Freedom of Information Act.” As she puts it, “If the president — and by extension, our government — is in possession of a file, surely that file is subject to my request to see it as a U.S. citizen.”
While Golembewski admits that she “know[s] it’s a stretch,” acknowledging that she’s “not entirely sure where the Game of Thrones screeners fall in the grey area that is personal property of a government figure,” she thinks that “there’s a lot of evidence that makes me think Obama […] will be delighted to help a girl out.”
When asked what fee she would be willing to pay for the FOIA request, Golembewski told the government to stick it on her student loans tab:
Following the massive leak of surveillance data by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, it was revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA – its headquarters pictured above) had been collecting e-mail metadata as part of a program it claimed ended in 2011. However, a lawsuit filed by the New York Times has revealed that the NSA effectively continued the program from 2011 onwards, just under a different rules, and under less scrutiny from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) than the previous iteration.
The New York Times filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the NSA – the newspaper is one of the greatest proponents of the FOIA, and has used it to investigate the treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees and the secret interpretation of the Patriot Act – through which it obtained records that the NSA ended its e-mail records program, which was authorised under the Pen Register and Trap and Trace (PRTT) provision, as “other authorities can satisfy certain foreign intelligence requirements” that its own system “had been designed to meet.”
“The databases could be queried using an identifier such as an email address only when an analyst had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the email address was associated with certain specified foreign terrorist organizations that were the subject of FBI counterterrorism investigations. The basis for that suspicion had to be documented in writing and approved by a limited number of designated approving officials identified in the Court’s Order. Moreover, if an identifier was reasonably believed to be used by a United States person, NSA’s Office of General Counsel would also review the determination to ensure that the suspected association was not based solely on First Amendment-protected activities.”
The two new methods that the NSA exploited to continue collecting e-mail metadata without the above oversight were:
Obtaining data collected by foreign intelligence agencies, such as the UK’s GCHQ, and;
Using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments of 2008 to collect the metadata of non-citizens of home soil without a warrant, which included e-mails sent to and from US citizens.
The NSA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to the New York Times’ request for comment on these revelations.
The CIA didn’t spy on the US Senate. It said as much, in a rather aggressive manner, while accusing the Senate of impropriety by even suggesting such a thing, throwing out the Inspector General’s report on a potential breach in the process. The CIA even staged an in-house investigation of itself, clearing itself of any wrongdoing. However, an unsent letter written by the CIA, apologising to the Senate for spying on them, has come to light thanks to a Freedom of Information request. The request, issued by serial FIOA abuser Jason Leopold, has made the embarrassing letter – which was never signed or sent, but was addressed from CIA Director John Brennan – was made available by accident, according to VICE News:
After VICE News received the documents, the CIA contacted us and said Brennan’s draft letter had been released by mistake. The agency asked that we refrain from posting it.
We declined the CIA’s request.
Leopold is the scourge of US intelligence and law enforcement agencies, stoking their ire with his serial FIOA applications. The Office of Net Assessment, a Pentagon think-tank, even tried to bribe Leopold to get him to stop making FOIA requests. He, of course, refused.
And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for that pesky Leopold.
Thank you TechDirt and VICE for providing us with this information.