The first responsive information from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for records concerning U.S. intelligence purchases of the private data of American citizens is trickling in. As often happens, cursory information allows us to catch a glimpse of secret practices, if only through a glass darkly.
The ears of civil libertarians perked up when Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines (1:17:05 mark) in her Senate confirmation hearings in early 2021 was asked about purchases of Americans’ data by Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-OR). She responded:
“I would seek to try to publicize, essentially, a framework that helps people understand the circumstances under which we do that and the legal basis that we do that under.”
Haines further promised to provide transparency “so people have an understanding of the guidelines under which the intelligence community operates.”
On May 17, 2021, PPSA requested records related to statements by Director Haines concerning the promise to publicize the circumstances under which the U.S. intelligence community purchases Americans’ private data, and its legal basis for doing so. After one year of awaiting a response – long past the statutory deadline – PPSA filed a lawsuit in July 2022 to press ODNI to respond to the request.
PPSA announces today that it received a reply that ODNI conducted a search and found approximately 1,000 emails potentially responsive to our request.
ODNI, however, explains that it does not have “de-duplication” software that would winnow the body of records to single copies. This is remarkable, since almost every other executive agency has such software, including many under ODNI’s purview. Searches of the documents will have to be done by hand and eye. With personnel changes, ODNI explains, it can only begin releasing records in late November – eighteen months after the submission of the FOIA request and in the middle of the holiday and travel season.
PPSA filed a motion asking a federal court to require ODNI to process at least 500 pages of records a month.
“What is most interesting about ODNI’s response,” said Gene Schaerr, general counsel of PPSA, “is that it has perhaps a thousand emails about living up to Director Haines’ promise of a degree of transparency without referring to a single document that would actually indicate that the office is transparent.”
PPSA will release more information from this legal action as ODNI produces results.