FBI accused of deliberately using ancient technology to obstruct information act requests

By midian182 · 10 replies
Jul 19, 2016
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  1. A Government Accountability Office report released back in May revealed that several US agencies, including the Pentagon, still used ancient “legacy” IT systems. But according to a new lawsuit, the FBI deliberately employs these decades-old computers to hinder public requests made under the US Freedom of Information Act (Foia).

    Foia law states that agencies must “make reasonable efforts to search for the records in electronic form or format.” But in a report by The Guardian, Foia researcher and Ph.D. candidate at MIT, Ryan Shapiro, says the use of the FBI's legacy systems mean searches for information requested by the public often fail “by design.”

    The FBI uses the limited Universal Name Index (Uni) search function of its 21-year-old Automated Case Support (ACS) system when handling Foia requests. The DOJ claims this method is all that’s necessary to fulfil the law, even though Uni frequently fails to find what it is looking for as it doesn’t conduct full-text searches of documents.

    According to Shapiro, the FBI “almost always refuses” to use the two other ACS search programs, which are more advanced, when processing Foia requests. It’s also extremely unlikely to use its newer, $425 million Sentinel software. The FBI claims using these systems would yield the same results as Uni, and be "unduly burdensome and seriously wasteful of FBI resources."

    "The FBI’s assertion is akin to suggesting that a search of a limited and arbitrarily produced card catalog at a vast library is as likely to locate book pages containing a specified search term as a full-text search of a database containing digitized versions of all the books in that library," Shapiro said. "Simply, the FBI’s assertion is absurd."

    As noted by The Guardian, The FBI’s chief technology officer during Geroge W Bush’s second administration, Jack Israel, was also a critic of ACS. “It’s based on an IBM mainframe with legacy database and programming technology, and I would say one of the main things that strikes you as a user of ACS is that you’re dealing with the old IBM green screens. You’re not dealing with a web-based environment, which everyone is used to from the internet.”

    Back in January, US district judge Randolph D Moss ruled in favor of Sharipo in a separate case, saying that the FBI’s current policy was “fundamentally at odds with the [Foia] statute.”

    Sharipo hopes his latest lawsuit will help change the FBI’s policy. The agency repsonded by saying Shapiro's work is a national security threat.

    Image Credit: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock

    Permalink to story.

  2. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 747   +357

    "The agency repsonded by saying Shapiro's work is a national security threat.

    But you're the FBI, not the NSA or CIA. The FBI's job is to investigate federal crimes, nothing more. If the info is that vital to national security, it shouldn't be in an FBI computer to begin with.
  3. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,274

    The FBI probably still operates under J. Edgar Hoovers legacy, draconian policies. Everything that is of interest to them is fair game, especially political leaders and high profile figures and their ultra secrative extra marital affairs.
  4. MilwaukeeMike

    MilwaukeeMike TS Evangelist Posts: 2,890   +1,223

    file this one under 'political theater'. yes, that really old, super obsolete IBM mainframe. /eyeroll Except here's the reality... that mainframe is still used all over the place. I work at a large fortune 500 company that has all sorts of brand new shiny technology. But the important stuff - like payroll and getting checks to customers - it's done on the IBM green-screen mainframe - you dont' even need a mouse when you connect to it. (you have to connect to a mainframe terminal - it doesn't run windows software.)

    The mainframe never crashes. Like ever. It's the most reliable system ever made. And not being connected to the internet? that's a security thing. It's a lot harder to hack into a system that's not the web. Didn't anyone ever see Battlestar Gallactica?

    If the FBI isn't searching databases correctly it's not because of the mainframe. This is the same FBI that busted Hillary in about 17 different lies breaking a whole pile of federal laws and decided it was no big deal.

    (They did however stop a mass shooting right here in downtown Milwaukee, so full props for that. I should probably stop ripping on them.)
  5. Camikazi

    Camikazi TS Evangelist Posts: 925   +284

    UPS is like that, the supervisors terminal connect to a mainframe that runs the green screen thing. That system is used to keep track of all incoming, outgoing trucks and their status. Reliability is the reason they are used, few others systems (if any) are as reliable as those mainframes.
  6. TruthTeller

    TruthTeller TS Rookie

    Is it an surprise that the FBI, as a part of the federal government are liars and totally untrustworthy?
  7. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 747   +357

    That is an explanation, not an excuse.
  8. Emexrulsier

    Emexrulsier TS Evangelist Posts: 574   +72

    You are actually describing 99% of everyone on the globe.
  9. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,724   +3,697

    Can I be so bold as to say the 1% is Techspot staff and readers? We could never be untrustworthy!
  10. Emexrulsier

    Emexrulsier TS Evangelist Posts: 574   +72

    Sadly not :D

    1% is "only" 74 million, sounds a lot but then there are close to 128 million babies under the age of 1 they have to account surely for most of the trustworthy people of the globe... :p
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  11. commanderasus

    commanderasus TS Booster Posts: 195   +72

    No fighting children - just eat your alphabet soup and stop playing with the letters.

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