The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Guardian sued the FBI in federal court today to find out whether and to what extent agents have investigated or watched members of the Occupy movement.
Filed under the auspices of the Freedom of Information Act, the lawsuit says the ACLU and the Guardian filed a public information request in March that the FBI promised to fast-track – and then never provided a response.
The lawsuit says the FBI has a long history of surveilling constitutionally protected political and religious activity, and says the FBI already acknowledged that “potentially responsive documents may exist” related to requests for records about Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Wall Street.
“There is great urgency in shedding light on the extent of the FBI’s role in surveilling Occupy activists, and in particular, on whether the FBI has complied with local and national norms in monitoring those engaged in First Amendment activity,” the lawsuit says.
In a web posting announcing the lawsuit, ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye said that although “the right of protest goes to the heart of our democracy, and the FBI exists to keep us safe, the FBI has a perverse history of interpreting its mission to mean that it can spy on political activists including Martin Luther King Jr.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital civil liberties group, today sued the Central Intelligence Agnecy and half a dozen other federal intelligence-gathering agencies, demanding the release of reports on potential misconduct since 2001 that might’ve been unlawful or contrary to presidential order.
“By executive order, federal intelligence agencies must submit concerns about potentially illegal activity to the Intelligence Oversight Board and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” EFF Open Government Legal Fellow Nate Cardozo said in a news release. “Intelligence agencies are given a wide berth for national security reasons, but at a minimum they’re required to act within the limits of the law. These records hold important details about how well the Executive Branch’s internal checks operate.”
Members of the Intelligence Oversight Board are appointed by the president to advise on intelligence matters. Until last year, all intelligence agencies had to report to the board “any intelligence activities of their organizations that they have reason to believe may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive.” The board was tasked with reviewing and summarizing those reports, and forwarding to the president those that it believed described legal violations. Last year, however, President Bush reassigned many of these responsibilities, including reviewing agency reports, to the Director of National Intelligence.
Now, with media reporting that the CIA didn’t tell Congress about a plan to train anti-terrorist assassin teams, transparency is key, EFF claims. Lawmakers are accusing the CIA of deliberately misleading Congress and demanding an investigation; reports the agencies sent to the Intelligence Oversight Board could shed light on what really happened.
Besides the CIA, EFF’s lawsuit names as defendants the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice (including the FBI), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Energy, and the Department of State – none of which responded to EFF’s requests for the information under the Freedom of Information Act.