An attorney best known for his prodding environmental regulators over their email usage has turned to a new potential ally in the war against climate science: the National Security Agency.
While the NSA has been getting flack in recent months after reports on its secret surveillence programs, Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, he’s so pleased with the practice that he’s using it to further his pursuit of emails and other documents from former Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson. Horner first revealed in June what many conservatives decried as a “secret email account” that Jackson utilized in her time at the EPA.
Now Horner has a bigger trove of emails in sight. Much bigger.
According to POLITICO, Horner has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the NSA, requesting that the NSA turn over any information from Jackson that would reveal that she conducted public business using her private account. In particular, the request is for “all metadata (duration and time of the communication, sender and recipient, etc.) from Verizon voice and/or data accounts in NSA’s possession for the phone/PDA/text/instant message and/or email account(s) held by Lisa P. Jackson.”
Jackson’s use of Verizon — a service that the U.S. government has frequently compelled to turn over metadata of phone records and takes part in the collection of digital information for analysis — as her email and phone provider seems to play a crucial part in Horner’s strategy. “When NSA made the decision to obtain information on Verizon customers not due to any particular suspicion or as part of any law enforcement action, it determined that any privacy concerns were outweighed by the public’s interest in NSA possessing such records,” Horner said in his letter to the agency.
Unfortunately for Horner, his plan has several roadblocks in its way. The first and foremost is that the National Security Agency doesn’t even respond to FOIA requests from citizens compelled to seek out their own metadata as in the case of ProPublica reporter Jeff Larson.
“Any positive or negative response on a request-by-request basis would allow our adversaries to accumulate information and draw conclusions about the NSA’s technical capabilities, sources, and methods,” Pamela Phillips, the NSA’s Chief FOIA Officer, said in response to Larson’s request, made shortly after the revelation of the Agency’s collection programs. “Our adversaries are likely to evaluate all public responses related to these programs.”
The second is that Horner’s request is unlikely to yield anything of use due to the amount of time Jackson has spent out of government. The full contents of stored Internet traffic, which are supposedly only intercepted in the event one or more of the parties is outside of the United States, can only be stored for a few days at most. The associated metadata with that traffic can only be kept for one month. Jackson left government service in February, far beyond the limits for storing information that Verizon would have turned over.