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A privacy-advocacy group has sued the U.S. government for information about an FBI database of more than 700 million personal records set up after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it sued the Justice Department because the FBI failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests on its “Investigative Data Warehouse.” The lawsuit also charges the FBI has not posted a public notice describing the criteria on personal information included in the database, as required by the Privacy Act of 1974. In its lawsuit, EFF cites the FBI’s April 2004 report to the 9/11 Commission and subsequent remarks from agency executives that said the agency began developing the database after the terrorist attacks. The 9/11 report said the database was first delivered in January 2004 and “contains all data that can legally be stored together … (providing) a single access point to several data sources that were previously available only through separate, stove-piped systems.” The FBI has said the database provides FBI agents and analysts with “instant access to photographs, biographical information, physical location information, and financial data for thousands of known and suspected terrorists,” according to a March 2005 speech by John E. Lewis, deputy assistant director of the counterterrorism division. “Nearly 12,000 users can access it via the FBI’s classified network from any FBI terminal throughout the globe,” Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. “And, nearly 30 percent of the user accounts are provided to task force members from other local, state, and federal agencies.” In an op-ed piece in The New York Times last month, John Miller, assistant director of the FBI, wrote that IDW “can search more than 700 million records from more than a dozen agencies and match them against our own investigative records.” The San Francisco-based EFF, which recently opened a Washington office with two attorneys from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The EFF said the FBI failed to meet deadlines for responding to the group’s FOIA requests. “On the one hand, the FBI has touted the creation of this database, but on the other hand, it hasn’t complied with the legal requirements that apply to the creation of something like this,” David Sobel, EFF’s senior counsel in Washington, said Wednesday. FBI spokesman Paul Bresson declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said IDW “simply unifies previously and lawfully acquired data from other established databases into one place.” “It should also be noted that even though the E-Government Act does not require IDW to undergo privacy impact analysis, FBI policy does require it,” Bresson wrote in an e-mail. “As a result we have conducted several privacy impact assessments at different times as new data sets are added.” Earlier this month, EFF sued the Justice Department for records concerning electronic-surveillance tools including one that appeared to be a successor to the FBI’s abandoned Carnivore program. The FBI developed Carnivore to read e-mails and other online communications among suspected criminals, terrorists and spies, but privacy groups and lawmakers complained it could collect much more than allowed by a warrant. Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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