NSA Rejecting Every FOIA Request Made by U.S. Citizens


Clayton Seymour, a 36-year-old IT specialist from Hilliard, Ohio, recently sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the NSA, curious as to whether any data about him was being collected.
What he received in response made his blood boil.
“I am a generally law abiding citizen with nothing I can think of that would require monitoring,” Seymour wrote to me, “but I wanted to know if I was having data collected about me and if so, what.”
So Seymour sent in an FOIA request. Weeks later, a letter from the NSA arrived explaining that he was not entitled to any information. “When I got the declined letter, I was furious,” he told me. “I feel betrayed.”
Seymour had decided to request his NSA file after coming across a recent post of mine instructing Americans on how to properly request such files from the FBI and NSA. A Navy vet and two-time Obama voter who supported the President’s platform of greater governmental transparency, Seymour was shocked by the letter he received.

The letter, which first acknowledges the media coverage surrounding its surveillance systems, quickly moves to justify why none of that data can be obtained by an American citizen in a standard FOIA request:


Seymour isn’t the only one who has recently had an FOIA request denied by the NSA – dozens of citizens have emailed me to say they’ve received a similar, if not identical, letter. And it’s clear from the exemption the NSA is using that every single American is having their FOIA requests similarly rejected.

Unjustly so.
It should be noted that there are legitimate exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act, the first of which states that documents requested may be denied if they are “properly classified as secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.”
However, the central problem is this: Seymour’s letter from the NSA points to Executive Order 13526, signed by President Obama in 2009, as justification for the NSA’s FOIA exemption.
This order signed by Obama established a uniform system for classifying national security information, and stipulates that “information shall not be considered for classification unless its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security.”
This qualification appears in section 1.4 of the executive order, after which follow many categories of information which may be marked as classified. The category the NSA points to in justifying the classification of all its data is this:

(c) intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology

Meaning: the NSA is classifying every single bit of data it receives from ordinary American citizens based on the premise that it has been gathered covertly.
Meaning: the NSA’s advertised justification for not granting FOIA requests is to protect our country. However, the real justification is the NSA’s covert violation of Americans’ Fourth Amendment right not to be subject to unwarranted searches and seizures (in this case of their personal, digital data).
The NSA, it seems, has classified every single piece of data on American citizens that it has seized and saved, even benign data culled from people like Seymour, who are no threat to U.S. national security.
“I believe in the concept of America,” Seymour told me. “[But] not its current execution.”
I sense the Founding Fathers would agree with him.
Follow David Harris-Gershon on Twitter @David_EHG

0 thoughts on “NSA Rejecting Every FOIA Request Made by U.S. Citizens

  1. This is how the extraordinary is made mundane and becomes an excepted part of our lives. It is another link in the chains that keep the majority imprisoned spiritually/ existentially and doing much about it. Watch for another manufactured “crisis” and the government’s response to maintain order and security.

  2. Here’s more outrage to add to the mix, a bit off topic but not if the topic is tyranny:
    I just learned that the TSA’S posted “requirement” that all travelers must show a photo ID to be passed through to depart is not only a misrepresentation of the law, a Ninth Circuit court judge has found it acceptable that the law the TSA is basing its position on is unpublished. In other words, millions of flyers and other TSA-screened passengers are all subject to a law that Homeboy Defense refuses to publish…AND A FEDERAL JUDGE FINDS THAT LAWFUL.
    In fact, many do opt for an enhanced screening (watch your junk!) but you have to rely on the TSA personnel at your departure point knowing and abiding by it; you can’t point to the law because it has never been published.
    And what is even more incredible, changes to this “law” are made orally and passed along a chain of command, and the terms may change as often as daily.
    The fact that we are living under a criminal syndicate AKA “government” whose minions find no fault with a law no citizen is allowed to see but still is subject to is so close to what the Founders created a revolution over as to be uncanny.
    I regret it, but I honestly can’t see where we’re going ending up in anything but a shooting war between the people and crime syndicate. They won’t change and we are reaching the end of our tether.

  3. Sorry to say so, but all that is the result of our “perfect democracy”.
    You voted them and expected them to protect you. You even accepted their “we’re locking things down”, “we’re watching you” and “we’re opening Guantanamo” strategy.
    So why complain? They’re only doing what you asked them to do when you voted for them.
    Don’t agree with their actions? Vote different!
    Did you forget America is all about “we, the people”? Once you manage to evolve beyond voting for the “most propagated campaign with the coolest color combinations”, chances are that you’ll vote for someone who doesn’t repeat propaganda like a parrot, but actually pushes America back to where it belongs: on top of the world.
    Peace, my fellow Americans! In God we trust…

    • No. You are incorrect. No one voted for this. You think people would have voted this in? Obama systematically lied to everyone in America about literally everything he said. Not one promise he made he kept, he broke every word he said. So you are wrong in we got what we voted for. No one voted for a tyrannical America. No one voted for the United Stasi of America. There has been secret shady shit going on in this country for the past… 50 years at least. Look at the JFK assassination. I wonder why he was assassinated. Definitely not because he tried to undermine the power structure that is the Federal Reserve Bank. Why do you think after his assassination not a single president tried to undermine the Federal Reserve Bank? You American’s have to stop watching television and start reading at the backwards ass way the powers that be are corrupting and destroying your lives. Ever heard of FEMA camps? Should probably look into that before it’s too late.

    • Annie. Do you have some sort of problem with having to show an ID that match es your ticket when flying? Seriously. Do you?

      • Yes, I have an objection to showing an ID when flying. It is nobody’s business but mine where I go and when. If I choose to travel as Mr. Cash Customer, that is my right.

        • It is an airlines right to deny your boarding without an ID. Airline travel is not guaranteed by the constitution. It is my right to fly from A -B safely. .That trumps your selfish objection. TSA does not care where you are flying to.

          • This is not a question of the arilines’ rights, it is an issue of federal law.The airlines cannot legally allow me to travel anonymously, even if they are willing to.
            How exactly does my showing a security guard my driver’s licence (which could be forged) make you any safer?

          • Think about it You name has to match the name on your luggage, has to the name on you boarding pass
            The authorities and the airline want to know who is boarding that plane and if you are on a watch list. You are going up in a tube 30,000 feet above the ground. I think all of us want it to land safely. And BTW, this is the standard everywhere i the world. You want security, try and Israel bound flight or security in israel. or else, when flying from New Delhi on a domestic flight. When flying to Leh, Ladakh from New Delhi, passengers had to go on the tarmac to match their ID to the luggage before it was loaded on the plane. Mind you, I was flying into a sensitive region.
            911 woke Americans out of a deep sense of security. They thought the Atlantic and Pacific sheltered us from terror attacks elsewhere. Airlines contracted with private security firms for lax airport security. Cockpits on US airliners had paper thin doors that could be kicked in. We were a disaster waiting to happen. Security should have been tight for a few decades already. Yo let your guard down, someone wanting to bring down a plane will exploit it.One incident =triple digit casualties, What is wrong with showing you damn drivers license to get on a plane? Are you really that paranoid. Frankly, if you don’t lie it, drive to your destination. Personally i am fine with giving up a few of my rights for the privilege of flying.
            Welcome to a world that has existed ever since the first hijackings. There is nothing new about it.

          • The no fly list is, and always has been, a waste of time. If airport security ensures that I am not carrying weapons onto the plane, they have done both enough and everything they meaningfully can to ensure the plane’s safety. Knowing my name does not improve safety one iota.
            My luggage has to match my luggage tags. If I had nefarious intent, fake ID is easy enough to come by. Demanding ID is another one of those things that invades the privacy of the law-abiding without noticeably discommoding the criminals.

          • Fake drivers licences are not so easy to obtain anymore. Presenting a damn ID is such a minor invasion.

          • Sammy, presenting documentation of identity may seem like a minor inconvenience. However, it is part of a system by which people are forced to request and receive permission from the U.S. government in order to move about the country. The ID check serves two primary purposes: airline revenue protection and facilitation of the restriction of free movement using blacklists.

          • No-one us restricting your movement around the country. Take a bus or train. And one would think the above regulations should have been in place long ago if it were for the reasons you stated. What does revenue protection even mean?

          • Up until Flight 811 blew up (due to a technical malfunction, not terrorist action), no ID was required to fly inside the United States. The airlines had been requesting that an ID be required, as it would improve their profits (no more selling the second half of a round trip ticket, i.e. arbitrage), but the government had steadfastly refused.
            So you are in favor of maximizing the airlines profits, heh ?

          • Let’s put it this way,based on the financial performance of any airline, I would not include their shares in my 401K. Airline travel is very affordable by today’s dollars.

          • Sammy, you are mistaken. Airlines operate as common carriers. If you pay the fee and follow their general rules, they are prohibited from denying you carriage. Freedom of association is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and travel is necessary for this. The right to travel is protected by international treaty. Air travel (“public transit through the navigable airspace”) is protected by federal law: 49 USC ยง 40103.
            Airline passengers are not required to present documentation of identity in order to fly. I was arrested at ABQ on trumped-up charges in 2009. A jury found me not guilty in 2011. The TSA security guard who testified in my trial made it clear that people often fly without ID. I’ve since initiated a civil suit in federal court against those who were involved in the incident.

          • You have the right to use airspace. but an airliner is private property. You can be denied boarding. You really have no similarity to “freedom riders” who were were discriminated against based on race. Also I would carefully look at TSA regs. As I said, I am willing to sacrifice a few freedoms to fly safely in a thin tube at 30000 feet.

  4. As a non-resident Alien (H-1B, Green Card applicant) happily living here at the moment I wonder if I’d have more, or less, chance of getting a meaningful response. Given that the implication is that as a non-Citizen I have none of the protections afforded to Citizens I assume that I am treated as a hostile by default. Of course rather than a form letter I might get a one way, all expenses paid holiday at a US beach resort in Cuba as a thank you present ;(

  5. Easy to guess why NSA is doing this. They have been using Uncle Tom Obama latest digitising of medical records to dip into people’s medical histories.
    Something that should be of benefit to citizens is turned against them. Like a third world despotic country, get injured in a protest have the NSA track you down via hospital records and then targeted for FBI enhanced interrogation.
    Again this invasion of privacy has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with politics. Vote and support third party and be instantly suspect and rejected from government employment either directly or indirectly.

      • And the NSA would never collect any data it is not entitled to. Of course, they are entitled to medical records in order to warrant flight security: how else are they supposed to know when, say, a disgruntled Vietnam veteran has had a recent drop of antidepressant usage and might be up to something desperate?
        Gathering this kind of information in the interest of national security has a long tradition: Nixon’s plumbers raided the office of the Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, for example.

        • I suggest yu d a fact check on health care law.I work in the medical field as a social worker. If I release any information about a patient, i would face a $200,000 fine

  6. Whether they should be doing it aside, the denial does make some sort of perverse sense. Providing the requested information would defeat the purpose of collecting it. The evil bad guys could just repeatedly send communications through different methods and after each send a “hey did you catch that?” request until they found one that wasn’t recorded and then use that channel to communicate.

  7. Although I am 100% sympathetic with the point of this post, when it comes to matter of law and government, the details of language matter.
    This conjuction:

    (c) intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology
    Meaning: the NSA is classifying every single bit of data it receives from ordinary American citizens based on the premise that it has been gathered covertly.

    is incorrect. This clause allows for the notion of non-covert intelligence activities. The premise here is not that the data on citizens can be classified because it was gathered covertly, but that it can be classified because it was gathered as part of intelligence activities. Any “intelligence activities”, covert or not. Stop and think about that for a moment.

  8. Who are these “adversaries” the NSA recurringly refers to? Allowing them to use such vague language is part of the problem. Or is that information classified too?

  9. Nice, got the same form letter recently. Sole option given is filing an appeal to another department. And they’ll send their form letter in response, I guess. No? What would you suggest for non-us citizens like me?

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