ACLU Sues FBI for “Improperly Withholding" Information Requested About Its Surveillance of Black Activists

From [HERE] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Media Justice (CMJ) filed a complaint on Thursday accusing the FBI of “improperly withholding” information sought in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the organizations in October regarding surveillance of black activists.

The organizations sought to obtain information related to the surveillance of black people on the basis of a “purported shared ideology.” The request was made in response to a 2017 FBI report titled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement,” in which connections are drawn between alleged police brutality against African Americans and an increase in ideologically motivated violence toward law enforcement.

The FBI, after reviewing 552 pages of documents, released 320 pages of information on February 22 with heavy redactions asserting multiple exemptions under the FOIA. However, the complaint takes issue with the heavy redaction of the documents and alleges that the FBI failed to provide “any description of the withheld information sufficient to permit [the ACLU and CMJ] to determine whether [the FBI] properly withheld information under the specified FOIA exemptions.”

The ACLU and CMJ also released an analysis of the alleged deficient disclosure of records on Thursday which details specifically what ways the organizations allege the disclosure was deficient. The alleged insufficiencies with the FBI’s disclosure include a failure to explain why certain documents referenced within the disclosed information were so heavily redacted or omitted entirely, a failure to conduct an adequate search for records, and a concern that the lack of internal emails within the requested period suggests an improper withholding of public records.

The analysis further alleges that the FBI’s creation of the term “Black Identity Extremist” appears to build on a “shameful history” of the agency’s efforts to discredit activism by Black-led organizers, and is meant to “group unconnected Black people together for the purpose of surveillance, infiltration, and disruption of their racial justice advocacy.”