16 December 2013
ShmooCon Firetalks submission
In Washington, DC, the federal government is arguing against a prolific Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requester that his multitudinous requests, taken together, constitute a "mosaic" of information whose release could "significantly and irreparably damage national security" and would have "significant deleterious effects" on the bureau's "ongoing efforts to investigate and combat domestic terrorism." In the District of Columbia, the federal government is defending the legality of the intelligence community's surveillance programs under a 1979 Supreme Court case, Smith v. Maryland, that found constitutional use of a “pen register” device to gather information on numbers called by a criminal suspect. So, yes: the government is simultaneously arguing to that too much otherwise-legitimate FOIA data creates a mosaic that threatens national security--but large scale metadata collection, far beyond anything contemplated by a simple pen register device in 1979--is perfectly legitimate. Is this a problematic dichotomy? And if so, what can we do about it?