In a twist on the classic song, “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” the FBI issued a non-response response to a PPSA Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for opinions concerning the bureau from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) since 1978.
The FBI’s response to the Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability is simple but direct: We have these opinions, but our computer systems cannot access them. The section chief of the FBI’s Information Management Division wrote:
“Your request for the above referenced subject is not searchable in our indices. The FBI Central Records System (CRS) is indexed according to investigatory interests, and it is not arranged in a manner that allows for the retrieval of information in the form you have requested.”
In a filing before Judge Rudy Contreras of the FISC Court earlier this year, the FBI said it has difficulty complying with FOIA requests as it transitions the workflow of the bureau’s components to a new system known as “the Bridge.” The FBI projects that this systemic transition will be complete in first quarter, 2023, at the earliest.
Gene Schaerr, general counsel of the Project for Privacy, responded:
“We are told that it is beyond the ability of one of the world’s most storied investigative and intelligence agencies to find secret court opinions that directly responded to it. If this is true, it is a wonder that FBI employees can do anything. Those of us in the civil liberties community, however, cannot summon such a level of naïveté. The FBI’s non-response response is risible and can only be taken as disdain for the Freedom of Information Act.
“Ultimately, it is up to federal judges, including those on the FISC, to compel the FBI to obey the law.”