PRM files suit against DOJ, seeks records on domestic use of UAVs

May 22, 2012

Posted by Matt Ehling

On May 22nd, Public Record Media filed suit against the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking records that the agency had withheld from PRM’s October, 2011 FOIA request. The records at the center of the lawsuit deal with legal opinions about the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver lethal force against persons located inside of the United States.

The increasing use of UAV drones in counter-terrorism operations – as well as the Obama administration’s legal posture regarding its ability to target certain U.S. citizens – both raise logical questions about whether these phenomena might intersect in the domestic realm. PRM’s lawsuit aims to uncover records related to the administration’ legal position on such matters.

We composed our initial FOIA request to cover a broad spectrum of categories, including legal memos that also dealt with the use of UAV drones against U.S. citizens overseas. We filed that request in October of 2011, and received a denial letter in early November. We were given a 60-day window to submit an administrative appeal, and we commenced work on one.

During that time, litigation involving similar documents began to move ahead. Both the New York Times and the ACLU sued DOJ, seeking documents that related to the administration’s overall policy of targeting U.S. citizens, including those abroad.

Those document categories overlapped with some of the legal memos sought through our own FOIA request. Due to this – as well as other – factors, we narrowed the scope of our administrative appeal to only cover documents explicitly related to UAV activities inside the United States. It bears noting that in the DOJ’s denial of our FOIA request, the Office of Legal Counsel acknowledged that it held documents related to Item 3 of our request – documents that dealt with the potential domestic use of UAV drones.

We have filed our lawsuit with the aim of obtaining all non-exempt records that pertain to our request. It is our contention that the public interest is served when the government is forthright and transparent about the legal basis for its actions – particularly actions that might occur within our nation’s own borders.

See PRM’s complaint here.