With today being an election day in the United States, it's easy to see why most would be a bit more politically-focused. On more than a few occasions, technology and politics overlap in unexpected ways, which is just the case in recent reports that the courts in the United States want a lot more information about the FBI's "Going Dark" program than the organization wants to have revealed.
The Bureau has been pushing for more wiretapping powers for some time now, and not without reason. As communications methods change from landline phones to mobile devices, and VoIP gets into the picture, having wiretapping laws that just barely cover Internet access is a little on the slim side.
Thus, the FBI developed the "Going Dark" program, specifically geared toward wiretapping digital communications, including those which are supposed to be encrypted end-to-end.
But the campaign proved to be just a bit too dark for many, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation discovered from its Freedom of Information Act requests about “Going Dark.” The response provided from the FBI proved to be almost a joke, turning up documents that were heavily redacted, giving the EFF very little in the way of actual information.
Thus came a ruling from U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco, stating that Going Dark needed to step more into the light and comply with Freedom of Information Act standards.
Seeborg's response indicted problems on two critical fronts: one, not only was the government leaving out information to such a degree that it was like dodging the request entirely, but it was also structuring its support for exemptions to the act in such a way as to make it deliberately difficult to follow. For instance, one section in which the government claimed an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act featured a 171-page support document that explained the justifications behind the exemptions – the document reportedly contained "a great deal of repetition" but didn't actually identify any of the documents involved in the exemptions by their standard bates number or in any other fashion.
The court naturally did not take this level of obfuscation well, saying "the existing index is insufficient to provide an adequate foundation for review of the soundness of the exemption claims. Accordingly, the FBI is directed to provide a revised index as promptly as practical, making a good faith effort to address the issues raised by EFF. "
However, Seeborg reportedly did not set a timeline for the FBI to comply, so seeing results any time soon is unlikely.
While it's important to note that some information needs to stay out of the hands of most, it's equally important to balance those concerns against the right of the people to know – and from there, make reasoned decisions about just where their tax dollars are going, and to what end.
The government operates on a sacred trust from the people – the consent of the governed – and withholding information from the governed is likely to strain that consent a great deal. Going Dark, and those programs like it, need to be brought out into the clear light of day for taxpayers – the ones footing the bill for such programs – to see and consider for themselves.
Edited by Braden Becker