EFF Sues U.S. to Reveal Online Surveillance Project

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON — The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed suit against the federal government Wednesday, seeking information on a little-known military unit that reviews hundreds of thousands of websites every month.

The websites that the Army monitors, the suit said, are either owned or operated by those in the armed forces.

The Army’s operation, called the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell (AWRAC), came to light in an October article published by the Army News Service.

The article said that AWRAC “scan[s] official and unofficial Army websites for operational security violations,” and “notifies webmasters and blog writers when they find documents, pictures and other items that may compromise security.”

The EFF filed its suit in U.S. District Court in Washington after the Department of Defense and Army failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about the AWRAC program.

EFF staff attorney Marcia Hofmann told XBIZ that the Department of Defense needs to make an “important justification” for this military unit’s activities.

“If the Army is coloring or curtailing soldiers’ published opinions, Americans need to know about that interference,” she said. “Of course, a military effort requires some level of secrecy. But the public has a right to know if the Army is silencing soldiers’ opinions as well. That’s why the Department of Defense must release information on how this program works without delay.”

Hofmann, who said she had no idea the real number of websites that have been targeted or for how long, said that court will now be brought in to settle the request for records.

The suit, which signals the first growing clash between military traditions of censorship and the expectations of young soldiers weaned on the digital culture, seeks expedited processing and release of the AWRAC program’s records, including how it conducts its monitoring, as well as any orders to soldiers about revision or deletion of web posts.