Lawsuit asks Justice Department to reveal decryption orders

The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants to know if tech companies have been ordered to unlock user data.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Do you want to know whether or not US officials have ever forced a company to decrypt data to aid in an investigation? So does the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The civil liberties group has sued the Department of Justice to make it reveal whether or not it has ever used secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders to make companies decrypt communications. The EFF had used a standard Freedom of Information Act request beforehand, but didn't get anything. FISC says that what "potentially responsive" documents it found are exempt from disclosure, since they were created before the USA Freedom Act took effect.

If you ask the EFF, the government is purposefully misinterpreting the law to avoid being hauled out on the carpet. The organization believes that the Freedom Act requires declassification of all "significant" FISC orders, not just the latest ones. It's a matter of obeying the law, the EFF says.

Should the group get its way, it could shed light on just how serious the government is about breaking encryption or inserting backdoors. While the White House has said that it won't support laws mandating access to devices, that doesn't mean that officials haven't ordered access on a case-by-case basis. There's no guarantee that the EFF will find anything, of course. If they do, however, the feds may have to answer a lot of questions about their respect for Americans' privacy and security.