For months, Evan Anderson of MuckRock, a collaborative news site that facilitates public records requests, has been working to get the Boston Police Department to release their email correspondence with the National Security Agency (NSA), so that he and the rest of the public might better understand the relationship between the two agencies. The Boston police are not making it easy.
Anderson made the initial records request on June 26, 2014 for “All email communications between the Boston Police Department and the National Security Agency from September 1, 2011, to December 30, 2011; April 12, 2013, to April 25, 2013; and March 1, 2014 to April 25, 2014.”
Anderson explained why these dates are of interest:
The time periods I requested are 1) during Occupy Boston (at the end of which there was rumored to be an orchestrated call between federal agencies to shut down the encampments... 2) during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, and 3) during the 2014 Boston Marathon (to perhaps get an indicator of how much they ramped up security & coordination).
The emails may offer insight into the connections between the NSA and local police. One early revelation about the potentially cozy connection came to light in a reply from David Estrada of Boston Police Media Relations department:
Sorry for the delay on this request. The emails have been compiled (not yet redacted) and there are literally hundreds of them. Many of them contain ‘Happy Birthday’ emails that go back and forth between multiple people.
Inter-agency birthday wishes aside, the Boston Police have traded 700 pages of emails over a combined five months of correspondence time. This heavy communication raises questions about what information the NSA may be providing to the Boston Police, and vice versa.
This matters because some police agencies (the DEA, for instance) train their agents to use NSA intel while hiding the NSA's involvement. This technique, known as "parallel construction," robs Americans of their right to a fair trial and allows the NSA’s domestic spying and potential Fourth Amendment violations to go unchallenged in court, giving the prosecution a serious advantage.
The Boston police's brazen disregard for the Massachusetts public records law is on display. By law, all government agencies in Massachusetts have a maximum of 10 days to respond to a records request with a fee estimate and a list of any cited exemptions regarding the requested documents. The Boston police failed to provide a detailed response until November 7, 2014, about four and a half months after Anderson made the initial request along with nine follow-up messages.
The Boston police did acknowledge receiving the request on June 26, 2014 with a boilerplate letter that more or less announced their intent to disregard the public records law (emphasis added):
We will contact you as soon as possible with our findings, and will send you a cost estimate for your requested materials if fulfilling the request is expected to exceed $10.00, per 950 C.M.R. 32.06(1); 950 C.M.R. 32.03; M.G.L. c 66 § 10(a).
Please be advised that we research each request in the order it was received, and it may take longer than ten days to be fulfilled. If your request requires a substantial amount of research, reviewing and redacting, fulfilling the request will take a significant amount of time. Please plan accordingly.
There is no legal way for a government agency to legally fail to fully respond to a public records request within 10 days. The “we got your request” letter does not constitute a valid response, so this major metropolitan police department has flagrantly violated the state's public records law, an act which carries criminal penalties of up to a $500 fine and a year in jail. Despite this criminality, Anderson says he does not intend to pursue charges.
When the Boston police finally responded, they included a fee of $402.50 for the emails. If you want to see the NSA-Boston police emails, Evan Anderson is trying to raise the money to get them released. You can contribute here.