Big Brother Watching You? The EFF Sues for Info

By Minara El-Rahman on December 03, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) is worried about big brother watching you on social networking sites.

The civil rights group released a press release on Dec. 1 that announced that it (in conjunction with the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law) is filing a lawsuit because half a dozen government agencies refuse to disclose their policies for using social networking sites for investigations, data-collection, and surveillance.

With more and more government agencies using social networking sites like Facebook as evidence in various investigations, EFF made FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests asking for information about how the government collects and uses this sensitive information. When EFF did not hear back from the agencies, it filed this lawsuit.

The complaint, (which you can read here) was filed in federal court in San Francisco according to Bloomberg. The group claims that it is looking for information in order to "help inform Congress and the public about the effect of such uses and purposes on citizens' privacy rights and associated legal protections."

What is FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information.

All agencies of the U.S. Government are required to disclose records upon receiving a written request, except those records that are protected from disclosure pursuant to nine exemptions and three exclusions.

The FOIA applies only to federal agencies and does not create a right of access to records held by Congress, the courts, or by state or local government agencies.

What information is made available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act?

The Freedom of Information Act makes the following types of information available to the public:

  • Statement of organization
  • Administrative procedures
  • Policies
  • Interpretations of law
  • Precedent decisions that affect the public.

Why Does EFF Want to Use FOIA for Social Networking?

It wants to ensure that general users of social networking sites are aware of federal agencies' policies of surveillance with regards to these sites.

The press release quotes a student working on the case as saying, "Internet users deserve to know what information is collected, under what circumstances, and who has access to it. These agencies need to abide by the law and release their records on social networking surveillance."

We'll see the extent to which we find out if big brother is watching you.

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