EFF puts the squeeze on government spying

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EFF puts the squeeze on government spying

Project aims to uncover electronic surveillance in the U.S..

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has launched a new campaign in an effort to shed light on the US government's electronic surveillance programs.

The program uses the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) as a springboard to introduce information requests and litigation that it hopes will show the extent of government monitoring of Web, email, and other electronic communications.

"We're really in the very early stages of the process. The first step is initialising our very early requests and in the first month we might be filing some lawsuits based on lack of response," David Sobel, senior counsel on the FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) project told vnunet.com.

The project aims to uncover surveillance, database, and data mining activities by the United States government in recent years. Some groups that Sobel says have already been contacted with requests are the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Education.

"It's a fairly wide variety, particularly in a post 9/11 world where the government is interested in first collecting large amounts of information and then analysing it" said Sobel.

Passed by congress in 1966, the Freedom Of Information Act calls for the public availability of all records kept by government agencies. It contains exemptions, however for such things as trade secrets, matters of national security, and individuals' private personal information.

Sobel characterised the campaign as an ongoing research project.

"It's really investigative in nature, to ferret out things the government would prefer the people would not be scrutinising," said Sobel.

The project is targeting government organisations for now, but Sobel said that private companies too could become involved in the litigation.

David Greene, executive director of the First Amendment Project said that the project has a good chance of disclosing electronic surveilance activities, but expects that FLAG has a hard time challenging the government to court. advises activists, journalists, and artists on a number of free-speech issues, including FOIA.

"A lot of what we know about the detentions at Guantanamo and the current surveillance are through FOIA. The challenge is having to sue the government, but I think they know that. This is a litigation project," Greene told vnunet.com.

"You have to fight them on it, but the courts are pretty good about understanding what FOIA is," said Greene.
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