The FBI cannot withhold details of its alleged surveillance of Muslim and other ethnic communities in Northern California, a federal judge has ruled.
The FBI may no longer use a rationale of “law enforcement purposes” to claim exemption from disclosure of the materials sought, said U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg on Monday.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued nearly five years ago for release of more detailed records related to FBI investigation and surveillance of Muslim communities and specifically asked about use of informants, assessments and cultural competency training materials as well as geo-mapping and domain management.
It asked for policies and procedures regarding types of racial and ethnic information the FBI collects on ethnically-oriented businesses or facilities suspected of association with a particular criminal or terrorist element of that community.
The ACLU sued in 2010 when it received no materials. From 2010 to 2012 the FBI released 50,000 pages of records over 20 months. But it withheld another 48,000 pages claiming an FOIA exemption for materials compiled “for law enforcement purposes,” known as Exemption 7.
Seeborg ruled that the FBI failed to show a connection between its duty to enforce federal law and the documents it claims are exempt.
“The FBI employs many various techniques to combat unlawful activity, some of which, if publicly disclosed, would undermine their effectiveness,” Seeborg wrote. “That this may well be true does not, without more, permit the FBI to apply Exemption 7 to withhold or redact information about such tactics, however,” he concluded.
The FBI may no longer claim the law enforcement exemption to withhold the documents here, he concluded.
Case: ACLU v. FBI, No. 10-cv-3759RS