Surely you’ve heard that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been continuously trolling the nation’s phone and Internet companies for records – at least for the metadata – for the past seven years.
The metadata tells who you’ve been talking to, when and for how long – and maybe from where. Using software that figures out patterns, the metadata can tell who your friends and lovers are. It can tell what you buy and by association, what kind of habits, medical conditions, or interests – healthy or unhealthy – you have. It speaks to the context of your life and your friends’ lives.
But do you know what they’ve collected, and of some substantial importance, what they’ve collected about YOU? Might you even want them to delete some of it?
The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) says you can request such information from the government, and they will often tell you what information – be it metadata or content – that they have on you. FOIA.gov is part of the Department of Justice (DOJ), they get about ¾ of a million requests per year, and they’re backlogged on about 10% of them. The DOJ provides some instructions and even a little video (be patient: it took a minute to load when I tried it) on how to go about making your request to find out what the Feds have on you. You can find that here: http://www.foia.gov/how-to.html. There are 29 agencies from which you can make these FOIA requests.
Want to get the NSA surveillance records on you deleted?
You have to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). One Jonathan Corbett, doing a lot of foot & phone work, found an address to where you can mail a “Motion to Quash” in order to try to get that data deleted. He discovered that the FISC doesn’t really seem to have a bricks-and-mortar address, but an individual within the Court does handle these requests. You have to mail your Motion to Quash (no, really) to:
2 Constitution Square
145N Street, Suite 2W-115
Washington, DC 20530
You might even have more to thank Mr. Corbett for, as he has put together a website to make these requests and Motions easy and almost automated for you. http://www.mynsarecords.com is Corbett’s generous contribution to helping you find out about or quash the data on you.
Go to his site; click on the green “Retrieve” or the red “Delete” button and fill in a few bits of info. MyNSARecords will send the info quickly.
And then you wait.
The FOIA calls for responding within about a month. But sometimes it takes months. Or years. A few years ago, George Washington University did a study. The median request was at about 2 months, the average was about 3 months and the oldest was… 11 years.
But if you want your records, there’s no time like the present.
Steve Burgess is a freelance technology writer, a practicing computer forensics specialist as the principal of Burgess Forensics, and a contributor to the just released Scientific Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases, 5th Edition by Moenssens, et al. Mr. Burgess may be reached at http://www.burgessforensics.com