The EFF said it was suing the Justice Department because the FBI did not respond in time to its FOIA request for records on the DCS-3000 and Red Hook programs.
Attorneys for the EFF’s newly opened Washington-based litigation office say both programs grew out of the defunct Carnivore system, which the FBI developed to read emails and other online communications among suspected terrorist, criminal and spies.
The EFF said Carnivore and its progeny allow the FBI to collect much more than could be legally obtained by warrant.
“The lawsuit is to force the FBI to release information about this to the public," EFF staff attorney Marcia Hofmann said, adding the group planned to explore other legal options in the coming weeks.
According to Hofmann, a FOIA request carries a 20-day deadline, which the FBI failed to meet in this instance.
The request was made as part of the EFF’s FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) Project, designed to use the Act to expose the government’s expanding use of technologies to invade privacy.
The FBI lawsuit marks the first use of litigation under FOIA by the EFF’s FLAG Project, which launched last month.
"Transparency is critical to the functioning of our democracy, especially when the government seeks to hide activities that affect the rights of citizens," EFF's FLAG Project Director David Sobel said. “We have recently seen numerous instances where federal agencies have sought to conceal surveillance activities that raise serious legal issues."
According to the EFF, the FBI spent nearly $10 million on DCS-3000, which was designed as an “interim solution to intercept personal communications services delivered via emerging digital technologies.”
The EFF also said the FBI spent $1.5 million on Red Hook, which is a system used to collect voice and data calls.
Information on both programs was obtained by the EFF from a March inspector general audit report.
The FBI said it would not comment on the pending lawsuit.