As EFF reported last week, the FAA finally released the names of the government agencies which have applied for and received authorization to fly drones in the US. Previously, the FAA had kept this information secret, and the agency only released it in response to EFF’s lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.
Unfortunately, the list did not include what types of drones were authorized to fly in U.S. airspace, what they were being used for, and what type of information they were collecting. The list may be incomplete as well. The FAA has promised to release more information soon, and EFF will publish that information as soon as it becomes available.
Meanwhile, concerning the secrecy surrounding the CIA’s drone program, ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer and Nathan Freed Wessler wrote an op-ed for the New York Times last week explaining how the CIA was abusing a doctrine in FOIA known as the “Glomar Response” which allows the government, in some situations, to refuse to confirm or deny a document or program exists. In the ACLU’s FOIA lawsuit over the CIA’s drone program, the government has, so far, refused to acknowledge that the program exists.
Perhaps most notably, the government’s use of Section 215 – the so-called “business records” provision of FISA – more than doubled in 2011. The DOJ filed 205 applications in 2011, up from 96 applications made in 2010. This is the same provision that Senators Wyden and Udall have warned us about: the Senators have said that when the American public finds out how the government has interpreted and is using the provision, the public will be “stunned” and “angry.” Given this, it is particularly concerning the government is relying on the provision much more frequently. Hopefully, EFF’s FOIA lawsuit against the DOJ for information on its interpretation of Section 215 will help shed light on the way the government is using this provision.