Property of the People has just filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over the Bureau’s failure to comply with the group’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on the FBI’s cyber-enabled surveillance platform named “Gravestone”.
Very little is publicly known about Gravestone. In late 2016, Property of the People located information identified by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as “metadata” online about the program.
Information was posted on the DOJ website data.gov.
The metadata and associated information on the DOJ site revealed, “Gravestone is a system consisting of an IP based camera, routers, firewalls, and a workstation to review surveillance video. The system provides Video Surveillance data to FBI field offices and is used by case agents.”
IP based cameras :are also surveilance cameras that are connected to the internet according to some additional sources .
The DOJ shortly thereafter deleted the Gravestone entry from data.gov. This deletion appears to have part of a broader data.gov purge of publicly available information about FBI systems.
While it is unclear precisely when the DOJ deleted the Gravestone information, the deletion appears to have occurred sometime between December 9, 2016 and January 24, 2017.
In March 2017, Property of the People submitted five Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the FBI for records on Gravestone. However, the FBI did not comply with the organization’s requests within the statutorily-permitted 20-working days deadline, and therefore the FBI is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act according to the orginization Property of the People, consequently, the group filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI to compel compliance .
Among other things, the transparency organization’s five FOIA requests seek FBI documents on Gravestone-related Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA), instructional and training materials, acquisition and maintenance records, security incidents and misuse.
Under the E-Government Act of 2002, federal agencies are generally required to conduct Privacy Impact Assessments for all systems that collect personally identifiable information, and make these publicly available online.
While it is unknown whether the DOJ and FBI consider Gravestone to be a National Security System, the DOJ’s own guidelines mandate that Privacy Impact Assessments be completed for all systems, including National Security Systems.
Not only has the DOJ now purged information about Gravestone from its website, but the FBI and DOJ have not made public any Privacy Impact Assessment for the FBI’s Gravestone system.
But who is Property of the People ?
Property of the People claim to be a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit “transparency organization” dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy.
The organization was co-founded by Ryan Shapiro, Jeffrey Light, and Sarahjane Blum.
The organization’s motto is, “The records of government are the property of the people. It’s time we reclaim them.”
Ryan Shapiro is a PhD candidate at MIT, a former research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and co-founder of Property of the People.
Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security.
Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light assisted by Property of the People legal strategist, Gunita Singh.
According to their website, they have an ongoing program called Operation 45, some consider it a watchdog group .
The name is Operation 45 due to Trump being the 45th president of the United States .