PPSA Files Lawsuit Today to Learn: Does the FBI Spy on Members of Congress Who Question Its Surveillance, Unmasking Practices?
The Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability filed a lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia against the Department of Justice and FBI. PPSA is seeking records in which Members of Congress queried U.S. intelligence agencies about surveilling them and their colleagues.
“Spying on Members of Congress for suggesting that they’ve been spied on would be the kind of circular logic our government excels at,” said Gene Schaerr, PPSA general counsel. “Could Congressional criticism prompt government surveillance of these very Members?”
Members of Congress who have questioned the surveillance policies of administrations of both parties continue to voice suspicion that they may have been spied upon by the agencies they oversee. With this concern in mind, PPSA filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI on Dec. 13, 2019, asking for information on the unmasking of a dozen members and former members of Congress who had made public inquiries into the U.S. intelligence community’s surveillance of them. PPSA specifically targeted correspondence between intelligence agencies and these Members of Congress, Congressional leadership and intelligence agencies about the unmasking of Members of Congress.
PPSA’s lawsuit holds that if Members of Congress have queried these agencies, as they have publicly said they have, then the records of this correspondence must surely exist.
On Oct. 13, 2020, the FBI denied the FOIA request and issued a “Glomar” non-response response that neither confirms nor denies the existence of such records. Having further exhausted all administrative remedies, PPSA today filed a lawsuit to compel the Department of Justice to produce these records.
“Americans deserve to know if a Member of Congress can be targeted for surveillance for daring to question the activities of intelligence agencies,” Schaerr said. “Under our Constitution, it is Congress that should oversee intelligence agencies, not the other way around.”