Thursday, April 05, 2007

FOIA frustrations, lessons learned

I submitted a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI last month, to get "access to and copies of any and all documents (including but not limited to) memos, electronic mail, presentations, briefings, meeting notes, guidelines and policies relating or mentioning to "Tor", "onion routing", "onion router", and "anonymous/anonymizing proxy/proxies""

I received word today that my request had come back empty. This is rather shocking, since I've personally spoken to FBI agents who know about Tor - and logically, it, or similar anonymizing proxies must have come up during investigations....

It turns out that with a standard FOIA request, no matter what you ask for, or how it is phrased, the FBI only searches their database for records that have the words of interest in the subject. If an FBI agent writes a case note about someone under investigation, and Tor comes up as part of the report, you won't get it back under a simple FOIA request. Simply put, an agent has to include the word "tor" in the subject of the memo/note for it to come back during a FOIA search.

The magic words, it seems, is to ask for a "full cross-reference search". If you do this, I'm told (by the FBI FOIA people), then they will actually search the contents of all records, instead of just the subject headers..

Grrr.. 1 month wasted just to find that out.

FOIA resubmitted....

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