Summary of

Electronic Privacy Information Center v. National Security Agency and Department of Defense, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, Case No. 99-3197, filed December 3, 1999.

This page was last updated on December 6, 1999.

Nature of the Case. EPIC sued the NSA to compel it comply with a FOIA request for copies of documents provided by NSA lawyers to its technicians, operators, and management regarding its signals intelligence operations. The documents are relevant to whether the NSA's interception of Internet and phone communications violates privacy rights.

Plaintiff. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), 666 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Suite 301, Washington DC, 20003. EPIC is a Washington DC based group that focuses public attention and advocates on civil liberties issues involving telecommunications, computers, and the Internet.

Defendants. National Security Agency (NSA), Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, 20755, and the Department of Defense (DOD), The Pentagon, Washington, DC, 20301.

Background. On the surface, this case is simply a suit to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request to which a government agency refused respond. However, it arises out of an ongoing debate about threats to privacy rights presented by signals intelligence operations of the NSA and other government agencies.

Government agencies conduct signals intelligence operations with respect to international and domestic communications, including both phone and Internet protocol transmissions. The relevant agencies are not forthcoming about the extent of, or legal justifications for, their operations, either to the public, or even to oversight committees of the Congress.

The NSA has refused to provide some documents requested by the House Intelligence Committee. Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL), Chairman of the Committee, criticized the NSA's refusal in a statement on May 7, 1999.

Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) has called for hearing on signals intelligence operations.

Facts. EPIC submitted a FOIA request to the NSA on June 8, 1999, which requested the very same documents that were requested by, and refused to, the House Intelligence Committee.

The Committee had asked the NSA General Counsel to provide it with "legal memoranda, opinions rendered, and other documents in the General Counsel's Office that established that the advice it was providing to the NSA's technicians, operators, and management was effective in helping the NSA achieve its mission goals and objectives." (Statement of Rep. Goss.)

The NSA did not comply with the FOIA request.

Status. This case was filed in the trial court on December 3, 1999. It has been assigned to Judge Paul Friedman.

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