ACLU v. FBI (Occupy Surveillance)
The ACLU Foundation of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and San Francisco Bay Guardian, an independent newspaper, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on March 8, 2012 to enforce the public's right to information about federal government surveillance of the political movement that has come to be known as "Occupy Wall Street" or simply "Occupy." The FBI provided no responsive records or any information regarding the status of its search.
On July 17, 2012, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and San Francisco Bay Guardian filed a lawsuit against the FBI for failing to produce requested documents named in the FOIA.
After we sued, the FBI provided a handful of documents but, not surprisingly, withheld more. The initial response was significant because it confirmed what we had all long suspected – that the FBI was indeed monitoring the Occupy movement. It was also notable because the FBI withheld some documents on the grounds of "national security" – raising serious questions as to why the FBI believed that documents related to a political protest movement implicated national security.
Thereafter, the FBI moved to terminate our suit. In a noteworthy decision, the district court found that the FBI had failed to meet its burden and denied the FBI's motion for summary judgment. Also, the court agreed that the FBI cannot withhold documents by merely stating that it was assisting local law enforcement. If the FBI had a legitimate law enforcement objective, it needs to tell us what that objective was.