[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [official website] lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] against the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official websites] Wednesday seeking information on the use of electronic surveillance tools. At issue are tools called pen registers and trap and trace devices which allow law enforcement to monitor phone calls, emails and websites visited under the Pen Register Act [text]. The attorney general is required to report annually to Congress about its use of these surveillance tools, but the ACLU claims that these reports are incomplete because they don’t include law enforcement agencies within the DOJ. The ACLU filed a FOIA request [text, PDF] in February but says it has not yet received a complete response. The lawsuit seeks the release of data and reports from 2010 and 2011 on the federal government’s use of pen registers and trap and trace devices as well as any documents shedding light on failures to submit those data and reports to Congress.
The ACLU has long been critical of government surveillance programs. Earlier this week the US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari [JURIST report] Monday in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA [docket] to determine whether plaintiffs have standing to challenge a federal eavesdropping law. The ACLU, one of the respondents in the case, expressed hope [press release] that the Supreme Court would affirm the Second Circuit and allow the lawsuit to proceed. In September the ACLU released a report [text, PDF] claiming that the US is diminishing its “core values” with regard to various counterterrorism measures [JURIST report] put in place during the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive]. To support this contention, the report cited to US policies regarding indefinite military detention for terrorism suspects, the use of torture on terrorism suspects and enemy combatants, racial and religious profiling, and domestic surveillance and wiretapping.