The American Civil Liberties Union announced on Dec. 21 that it filed suit in Federal district court for the Western District of New York seeking disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) into how seven Federal agencies conduct what ACLU characterized as “hacking” operations into phones, computers, and other devices.

ACLU said it filed the suit after making FoIA requests for the data more than 100 days ago, to which it said no “prompt, full response” has been received.

Federal agencies and components named in the suit include: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Secret Service, Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security Office OIG, Treasury Department OIG, and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

ACLU said the suit demands “that the agencies disclose which hacking tools and methods they use, how often they use them, the legal basis for employing these methods, and any internal rules that govern them,” along with any related internal audits and investigations.

“Because of the privacy and security implications of hacking as well as its potential for misuse, the public has a strong interest in learning about how law enforcement is deploying and regulating hacking,” ACLU said in its suit, adding, “At present, the public is in the dark about the extent to which ordinary law enforcement agencies use hacking. Even the rules and procedures that regulate law enforcement’s use of hacking are largely secret.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.