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My NSA Records - Submit a FOIA Request or Motion to Quash (mynsarecords.com)
142 points by JDGM on June 14, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

The secrecy of the information FOIA is supposed to help alleviate (it doesn't really because it's a catch-22) bothers me a lot.

If the government is amassing information on individuals to prove guilt of some crime, by withholding that information from counsel, it's very possible that evidence that proves the individual is completely innocent may be destroyed inadvertently since the individual has no idea what they might be someday accused of.

There are tons of problems with the NSA having this data, and I think they are just beginning to learn that. There's a news headline out there now that a bank robbery suspect has now requested his NSA records to prove he wasn't there. The shit is about to hit the fan (or "additional shit" I should say!)

Of course, you could always keep a copy of every phone bill you receive if you want permanent proof of what you were up to.

@chris_mahan - Not exactly. In a criminal trial, it's the government that needs to prove things, and all you need to do is cast doubt. A showing that your phone was, for example, being used to call your mom at the same time that someone was getting smashed with a sledge hammer might be sufficient to give a jury reasonable doubt. You can call your mom to testify to authenticate the records, too.

so that is why prosecutors ramp up the charges and offer you a plea. By the time it rolls to trial those phone records won't be available to bolster you case.

Casting doubt is one thing, prosecutors seem intent they never get in front of a jury and if they do they will do their best to suppress any evidence in your favor.

This is true. It's interesting how in order to get your right to a trial, you're basically placing a gamble.

You'd have to prove that it was you talking on the phone. You'd need a recording of the conversation for the judge to be sure.

Presumably the NSA knows his location during the bank robbery, via his cell phone data. He needn't have been talking on the phone at the time. If his location was miles away then he should be off the hook.

Assuming he didn't leave it with his cousin Cletus who placed the phone call instead. NSA metadata does not help the accused in any way.

It would be a piece of evidence to counter the prosecution's evidence against him. If his DNA is on the money, it won't help much. But if the prosecution has no hard evidence, it could form reasonable doubt of guilt.

Reasonable doubt.

Your phone bill doesn't tell you your minute-by-minute location. That what the bank robbery suspect wants evidence for.

Is this legit? It kind of feels like those old scam ads that would say, "Has your credit card number been stolen? Enter here to find out!".

Why, especially in the light of recent privacy concerns, would I just hand over my full name, address and phone number and allow someone I have no relationship with mail a legal document on my behalf?

Hello, creator of the Web site here. You can click through the contact page to find out more about me, but I've been fighting government invasion of privacy for several years now. I was the top story on HN for about 3 days last year when I posted a video of me beating TSA nude bdy scanners. I want nothing more than to send the NSA and FISA court a million requests for info! :)

"tsaou...tour pants...???... tsao u to ur pants??? ... ts a out our pan ts... TSA out our pants! Got it!"

PS. In submitting this - your Web page (!!) - I was hoping to get some feedback from wise old HNers as to whether it was legit or not. Though the page out of context seems faintly scam-like ("We will mail your request for FREE!" "We've got a lot of printing and mailing to do, and can only do it with your support!"), it seemed to check out with the other pages on the site and all the information about you so I figured it was fine, but still was interested in what other folks made of it. I wasn't expecting the author himself to be the first to assure people with his previous HN credentials! Great stuff, and keep up the awesome work.

Thanks for sharing it! If you have any ideas for how to make it seem less sketchy while still conveying that we're going to send a free request for you, let me know!

Needless to say, it's a little unfair of me to so casually and easily remark "the page out of context seems faintly scam-like" without pinpointing exactly why, and offering "ideas for how to make it seem less sketchy". This kind of thing is also very subjective, anyway! However, in my opinion, it might be an improvement to drop the caps on "FREE" and perhaps the exclamation marks on the two quoted sentences too. The comment around here by "stfu" about the buttons is also interesting, and hadn't even occurred to me, but seems like a good observation.

No offense taken -- it's good to be skeptical! I've taken your suggestion and un-caps'd and changed some punctuation. :)

Well, the big question for me was, “Why would anyone expect either of these options ever actually work?” and your site does not seem to address this fundamental question.

There are a few little things, too, like the ASCII arrow "bullets" and cheap-feeling graphics, that just make it seem less trustworthy. Contact me if you’d like me to donate a wee bit of time to upgrade your look & feel.

There's a "Why is this important?" link on every page that addresses your question.

If youd like to make graphics to improve the design, I'd be happy to put them up! jon [at] professional-troublemaker.com

Ask for people to tell you if they actually get some good info back. If it happens then put notice of that here on HN. Then I'd be interested.

Why not be interested now, rather than months from now when responses come? It takes about 30 seconds to fill out a request, and it's free.

Great work, I remember the TSA scanner story! Just a thought: Maybe you could change the buttons to look less 2000'ish. That might give off a bit of an odd vibe ;)

Thank you!! Help create new awesome buttons and I'll use them! :)

Try something like this perhaps:

    <a href="/retrieve/" class="button retrieve">Retrieve</a>
    <style type="text/css" media="screen">
    .button {
    	font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;
    	padding:0.5em 1em;

Does feel more modern, but much less clickable. IMO, slight faux 3D effects are still quite helpful on the web

Easy enough to add shadows etc with CSS if you like them, but I do think anything (even just text) would be better than the current buttons - at present they make the site look pretty dodgy and home-made - strange how styling can affect our trust.

How about a "PDFs of the documents needed so I can file it myself" option? I know that doesn't keep you in the loop as much, but per parent post I'm not clicking otherwise.

Basically, you can take the forms that you see when you click one of the two buttons and make a Word doc that looks just like it, then mail to the appropriate place. I don't mind being taken out of the loop -- I just want some guy's desk at the NSA and FISC to be stacked high with papers! :)

Regarding the motion to quash, it seems as though it would be rejected outright by the court clerk since you're not filing it in person and I'm guessing there is a motion fee to file with the court.

I am a lawyer and would be interested in helping you make this more effective, if you are interested.

Would certainly be up for your input -> jon [at] professional-troublemaker.com .

I don't believe the FISA court has established filing fees, simply because they typically only get requests from the government. Their rules:


Before I put up MyNSARecords, I was curious as to whether more people would want a copy or want them deleted. Thought you might find it interesting: the "want a copy" crowd outnumbers the "delete" crowd by about 4 to 1.

Makes sense to me =) I just asked for a copy. I want to know what they are tracking and how fully, also a Freedom of Information Act sounds like they are more likely to comply than to Quash it. Of course, I would like to have it deleted after I get my copy...

There should be nothing in the way of requesting both, I suppose. You could write the NSA and the FISC a motion to provide a copy and then destroy. shrugs

I'd like to see more my whole file instead of just the phone records, because I'm curious how accurate their information is.

The problem is that they'll say what they collect in your "whole file" (if such a thing exists) is a national security secret. This whole retrieval of phone records by FOIA is (remotely) possible because they can no longer claim those records are secret.

Also, NSA likely doesn't have too much of a file on you. FBI, CIA, DHS, on the other hand...

Only Americans? Or can the rest of us yet to be proven not terrorists apply too?

You bring up a good point. It's common knowledge that most countries have laws about spying on their own citizens, but not citizens of other nations. Furthermore, global intelligence organizations freely share intelligence. They have been using this "loophole" to effectively spy on their own citizens by proxy. It seems that it's in the best interest of all citizens of the world to form some sort of treaty that says they want spy on each other without due process. It's seems pretty counter intuitive that my own government would encourage, and even assist another government to spy on me. Isn't the main purpose of the government, the reason that I let the government exist in the first place, to protect me from foreign threats. Certainly another country spying on me is a threat worth protecting from.

Although I'll only be mailing requests with US addresses, you can certainly take the form from the site and mail your own. I encourage it!

If you are not American, our laws apply to you, but not our rights. So you are out of luck if you want to file a FOIA.

Replying to myself here...

Not sure why this is getting down voted, it isn't hard to understand or show evidence of. You may not agree with it, but it is fact. For example a Columbian drug lord can break American laws without ever stepping foot on US soil. A hacker in China can violate wiretapping laws. The sovereignty of other nations has given way to extradition, extraordinary rendition, or even drone strikes.

If you are not American, our laws apply to you


Even if someone is physically not in the US? Have I misunderstood something for a very long time?


There are other examples. This is the one that came to mind most readily. I don't smoke up. I don't support Marc Emery. I was however, ashamed at how nut-less my government was in handing him over.

I find it ironic that that the "quash" option on the site doesn't tell you the address that will be used for mailing your request to the FISA court.

It would be nice if the site published instructions on submitting these requests yourself.

On a related note, I'd love to know: 1. How does one typically file a motion with the FISA court, given that they don't have a website or any public contact information that I can find? 2. What's the probability of these "quash" requests even being considered, given that nobody other than the USG is technically party to the case?

1) FISA court rules, including how to file a motion: http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/rules/FISC2010.pdf

2) Probably slim, but again, it's a matter of petitioning your government for redress -- a protest. You certainly have "standing," so I don't imagine the reason will be that you're "not a party," but they'll likely find some reason to deny them.

Of course if they don't have a file on you, and you send them a FOIA request, they may open up a file on you just for the purposes of handling your request...

That is why after your first FOIA request you send another FOIA request that requests all correspondence and documents generated as a result of your first. Rinse and repeat until you find an attractor. ;)

Since their logic is you cannot be safe unless they know everything about you - they most likely have a file on every human being in the USA, maybe a large majority of the planet.

I wouldn't rule out the possiblity that your participation in a thread about this is in your file.

haha don't worry, they have a file on you ;)

Doesn't a FOIA request have fees associated with it? Will the government just bill you for it when they provide documents?

> There is no initial fee required to submit a FOIA request, but the FOIA does provide for the charging of certain types of fees in some instances.

> For a typical requester the agency can charge for the time it takes to search for records and for duplication of those records. There is usually no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of duplication.


"...the agency can charge for the time it takes to search for records and for duplication of those records"

In the spirit of absurdist satirical works such as Brazil locally relevant in light of recent events, here's an immediate lunatic conspiracy theory:

This whole Snowden leak business is an elaborate and wholly orchestrated "make work" scheme to boost the economy by flooding "the agency" with requests for records. In three months four out of every five Americans will be hired in this line of work. Brilliant, government economists, simply brilliant!

Considering that everything alleged has been announced, confirmed, discussed, and documented for years past (Patriot Act, ECHLON, hoovering all international communications, etc.) I'm wondering why all this, now, is garnering such outrage. The idea's time, I suppose...

There's been outrage in the past, but it's generally been limited to the tech community and didn't last long because it dropped out of the news quickly. This time the government openly acknowledged the mass collection of everyone's phone records without probable cause, and continued media coverage has allowed it to build momentum. I think many people have been very upset about it for a long time, but everyone else seemed to show apathy so they did too, because if no one else seems upset, it's hard to feel like anything can ever get done about it. When everyone is angry, there's more chance of getting something done.

"You may request a waiver of fees. Under the FOIA fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester."

Sounds like that applies to most everyone to me!

Also, regarding fees, I really don't expect that the NSA is going to respond to your FOIA request without a fight, so I personally think it's a non-issue. The idea here is the protest, not an expectation that you'll actually get your records!

Added in a fee waiver request to the form!

Well, no reason not to request my records then! Thanks!

Technically you want to submit a Privacy Act request to get records on yourself which is different than an FOIA request. But the NSA will just deny the request with a form letter.

The form you fill out says under both FOIA & PA. :) I got you covered. ;)

Could somebody explain the Motion to Quash who has an understanding of it? I thought it only applied to a subpoena, and so would not apply without one.

I don't have a full understanding of it, but I think a Motion to Quash basically asks the court to say "This information was collected illegally or outside the investigative scope, and you may not use it as evidence (and thus must destroy it)"

It seems like the distinction that the NSA is trying to make is that, it's not illegal to possess the data, only to look at it. That argument may even extend to automatic processes that aren't seen by human eyes, who knows. If you happen to get a warrant in the future, you'll be able to "travel back in time" to see all communications of the person in question. The most maddening part of all this is that no one outside the government is even allowed to know the rules.

Correct that this appears to be their argument, but that argument holds not a chance. Imagine if police searched houses randomly but "weren't allowed to use what they found unless they got a warrant." I believe this argument will be squarely and unanimously rejected by SCOTUS.

> Imagine if police searched houses randomly but "weren't allowed to use what they found unless they got a warrant."

The main remedy for illegal police searches is exclusion of the evidence if, and when, the government attempts to use it in court (and then, usually, only if they attempt to use it against the specific person whose rights were violated by the search, and not always even then [e.g., good faith exception, and other exceptions to the exclusionary rule].)

That's the main remedy in criminal court. If the police unlawfully search your house, you can also sue them in civil court for both money and injunctive relief.

It would be more like if robots searched your house and no human was allowed to look at what they collected without a warrant.

The closest ruling I can find on something like that is that sending drug sniffing dogs into a house without a warrant is illegal: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/26/drug-sniffing-dogs-...

It would be like if dogs sniffed your house, and their reaction was recorded, but not seen by anyone. And the recording could only be viewed after a warrant was obtained. The NSAs argument is that you can't become a suspect as a result of the recording. You have to become a suspect in some other way, and then they can go back and analyze the recordings.

Exactly... to "quash" literally means to set aside. You're asking them to undo something they've done, which is typical for a subpoena that was incorrectly issued.

Note that you can also submit a request directly on the NSA's FOIA page: http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/foia/submit_foia_request/foia...

You could, but I like the idea of them having to deal with a paper copy! :)

IMO, you should state this possibility and your own sentiment directly on your website. Let the people decide!

Can't I just give them my name, and my Google Voice number, and in return get all the information they have on me or will they only give me the information they have on my Google Voice number?

You need to provide an address for them to send you the information. :)

There are nine exemptions to the FOIA (that we know of)


I'm not sure any of them apply anymore. The government's best argument is probably, "Just because their existence was disclosed doesn't mean it's not still classified!" But, I've seen that argument before in court cases, and IIRC, a court ruled that if the disclosure is reliable enough such that everyone knows it's true and therefore it's obviously not a secret, the docs must be released.

And they are fairly broad


That's not including secret/classified interpretations of the exemptions.

Does filing the FOIA make the information public to all? I would just quash if this is the case.

Good question! While I can't give legal advice, it is my understanding that the answer is NO! :)

This is awesome. Whoever did this a should add a bitcoin address for donations.

On my to-do list for tomorrow!

You should submit it to a few subreddits, too.

I did, but Reddit has a nasty habit of deleting my posts, generally silently (so it looks to me like they're still there but no one else can see). I was actually silent banned from Reddit for a year by an automatic spam filter's mistake. Really sucks.

You all can feel free to try on my behalf tho! Perhaps you have a more established account.

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