FBI - Chatbot Technology

Dave Maass filed this request with the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States of America.
Tracking # 1284912-001
Est. Completion None
Status
No Responsive Documents

Communications

From: Dave Maass

Dear FOIA officer:

This letter constitutes a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and is submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”). We make this request as part of EFF’s Transparency Project, which works to obtain government documents and make them widely available to the public.

Earlier this year, EFF reviewed an Army contracting document publicly available on FBO.gov (https://www.eff.org/files/2014/04/18/ja_redacted.pdf) that provided background on the FBI’s use of artificial intelligence “chatbot” or “virtual agent” software. According to the document:

"LTC Robert Plummer, Director, USAREC PAE, while visiting the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) in late 2003, discovered an application developed by NextIt Corporation [sic] of Spokane, WA, that PNNL identified for the FBI and CIA. The application used chat with an underlying AI component that replicated topical conversations. These agencies were using the application to engage pedophiles and terrorists online, and it allowed a single agent to monitor 20-30 conversations concurrently."

The provider of the software is Next IT Corporation of Spokane. There are two further contractors that are licensed to maintain the software: Nakuuruq Solutions and TKC Communications (dba Truestone Communications). This technology is now known as “ActiveAgent.” Next IT’s sister company, ActiveSentry Corporation, offers a related product, “ActiveSentry,” that we believe also contains elements that were used in FBI investigations. According to ActiveSentry promotional materials:

"Our solution, ActiveSentry, is evolved from a proven technology we developed that has been deployed by government agencies to monitor Internet Relay Chat (IRC) rooms for such suspicious behavior as potential threats to national security, child exploitation, and drug trafficking."

Artificial intelligence programs, particularly those that gather data on or interact with users, raise novel new questions for privacy. As with all new, controversial law enforcement technologies and practices, the public is best served by an informed debate based on facts and records rather than secrecy and speculation. Therefore, this request seeks information about the FBI’s use of chatbot programs, including the protocols and privacy implications, as well as information about its usage.

Accordingly, EFF hereby requests all agency records (including, but not limited to, electronic records) created from Sept. 12, 2001 to May 8, 2014 discussing, concerning, or reflecting the use of chatbot technology, including:

1) All contracts or agreements between the FBI and Next IT.
2) All contracts or agreements between the FBI and Nakuuruq Solutions, TKC Communications (dba Truestone Communications) or any other contractor regarding the maintenance or operation of Next IT products.
3) All policies and protocols for the use of Next IT products and any other chatbot technology in criminal investigations.
4) All privacy or civil liberties analyses and reports associated with the use of Next IT products and any other chatbot technology.
5) All data retention policies associated with Next IT products and those applicable to any other chatbot technology.
6) The names and case numbers of all cases in which Next IT products or any other chatbot technology aided in arrest or prosecution.
7) All reports or evaluations of Next IT technology provided to Pacific Northwest National Laboratories.
8) The output scripts for all Next IT products or other chatbot technology operated by or on behalf of the FBI.
9) All legal opinions related to the use of Next IT products or other chatbot technology.
10) Technical specifications provided to or from the FBI concerning chatbots
11) Promotional material the FBI received about chatbots
12) User manuals the FBI retains for chatbot software it uses
13) Any logs of chatbot usage not pertaining to an ongoing investigation

Request for News Media Fee Status

EFF asks that it not be charged search or review fees for this request because it qualifies as a “representative of the news media” pursuant to the FOIA. In requesting this classification, we note that the Department of Homeland Security has recognized that EFF qualifies as a “news media” requester, based upon the publication activities set forth below. In addition, the National Security Agency (“NSA”) has previously determined that EFF is not only a “news media requester,” but also “primarily engaged in disseminating information” for purposes of expedited processing. These precedents are particularly important in light of the fact that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has stressed that “different agencies [must not] adopt inconsistent interpretations of the FOIA.” Al-Fayed v. CIA, 254 F.3d 300, 307 (D.C. Cir. 2001), quoting Pub. Citizen Health Research Group v. FDA, 704 F.2d 1280, 1287 (D.C. Cir. 1983).

EFF is a non-profit public interest organization that works “to protect and enhance our core civil liberties in the digital age.” One of EFF’s primary objectives is “to educate the press, policymakers and the general public about online civil liberties.” To accomplish this goal, EFF routinely and systematically disseminates information in several ways.

First, EFF maintains a frequently visited web site, https://www.eff.org, which reports the latest developments and contains in-depth information about a variety of civil liberties and intellectual property issues. EFF posts documents received in response to its FOIA requests here, along with accompanying analysis and commentary. See https://www.eff.org/issues/foia.

EFF has also regularly published an online newsletter, the EFFector, since 1990, which it emails to more than 185,000 subscribers every week. The EFFector currently has more than 185,000 subscribers. A complete archive of past EFFectors is available at https://www.eff.org/effector/.

Furthermore, EFF publishes a blog that highlights the latest news from around the Internet. DeepLinks (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/) reports and analyzes newsworthy developments in technology. Blog posts by EFF authors are frequently syndicated by national and international news organizations, including Ars Technica, Gizmodo, io9.com, and Mashable.

In addition to reporting high tech developments, EFF staff members have presented research and in-depth analysis on technology issues in more than twenty white papers published since 2002. These papers, available at https://www.eff.org/wp/, provide information and commentary on such diverse issues as biometrics, electronic voting, government intelligence violations, surveillance, free speech, privacy and intellectual property.

EFF has also published several books to educate the public about technology and civil liberties issues. Everybody’s Guide to the Internet (MIT Press 1994), first published electronically as The Big Dummy’s Guide to the Internet in 1993, was translated into several languages, and is still sold by Powell’s Books (http://www.powells.com). EFF also produced Protecting Yourself Online: The Definitive Resource on Safety, Freedom & Privacy in Cyberspace (HarperEdge 1998), a “comprehensive guide to self-protection in the electronic frontier,” which can be purchased via Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com). Finally, Cracking DES: Secrets of Encryption Research, Wiretap Politics & Chip Design (O’Reilly 1998) revealed technical details on encryption security to the public. The book is available online at http://cryptome.org/cracking-des.htm and for sale at Amazon.com.

Finally, EFF uses new media extensively to disseminate information to the public. EFF has almost 187,000 followers on Twitter and sends out approximately 150 “Tweets” per month with short summaries of EFF blog posts and information on current issues in surveillance, intellectual property, technology and civil liberties. These Tweets contain links back to EFF’s site and to other sites on the Internet that readers can and regularly do click on for more in-depth coverage. EFF also has more than 94,000 people who “like” the organization on Facebook and who receive EFF’s blog posts and updates through the site. Similarly, EFF has 2 million followers on Google+, accounting for 18.4 million views. Finally, EFF has a channel on Youtube where it publishes short videos on the issues of the day. EFF’s YouTube channel has approximately 2.1 million views and 9,000 subscribers.

Due to these extensive publication activities, EFF is a “representative of the news media” under the FOIA and agency regulations.

Request for a Public Interest Fee Waiver

EFF is entitled to a waiver of search and duplication fees because disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest within the meaning of 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(a)(iii). To determine whether a request meets this standard, FBI components determine whether “[d]isclosure of the requested information is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government,” and whether such disclosure “is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.” This request clearly satisfies these criteria.

First, because FBI is a component of the federal government, information concerning Next IT and other chatbot technologies unquestionably concerns the “operations or activities of the government.”

Second, disclosure of the requested information will “contribute to an understanding of government operations or activities.” EFF has requested information that will shed light on the Next IT and other chatbot technologies.

Third, the requested material will “contribute to public understanding” of the Next IT and other chatbot technologies. This information will contribute not only to EFF’s understanding, but to the understanding of a reasonably broad audience of persons interested in the subject. EFF will make the information obtained under the FOIA available to the public and the media through its web site and the EFF newsletter, which highlight developments concerning privacy and civil liberties issues.

Fourth, the disclosure will “contribute significantly” to the public’s knowledge and understanding the Next IT and other chatbot technologies. A similar FOIA request filed by EFF with the U.S. Army for its Next IT chatbot technology produced significant public debate, including news coverage by NPR, NBC News and Digital Trends. As such, the response to this FOIA request will undoubtedly contribute significantly to the public’s understanding.

Furthermore, a fee waiver is appropriate here because EFF has no commercial interest in the disclosure of the requested records. EFF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and will not derive commercial benefit from the information at issue here.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. As the FOIA provides, I will anticipate a determination on our request for expedited processing within 10 calendar days and a determination with respect to the disclosure of requested records within 20 working days. If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact me at 415-436-9333 ext. 151 or dm@eff.org.

Sincerely,


Dave Maass
Investigative Researcher

From: Sobonya, David P.

Dear Mr. Maass,

The FBI has received your Freedom of Information Act/Privacy (FOIPA) request and it will be forwarded to Initial Processing for review. Your request will be processed under the provisions of FOIPA and a response will be mailed to you at a later date.

Requests for fee waivers and expedited processing will be addressed once your request has been assigned an FOIPA request number. You will receive written notification of the FBI’s decision.

Information regarding the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy is available at http://www.fbi.gov/ or http://www.fbi.gov/foia/. If you require additional assistance please contact the Public Information Officer.

Thank you,

David P. Sobonya
Public Information Officer/GIS
Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS)
FBI-Records Management Division
170 Marcel Drive, Winchester, VA 22602-4843
PIO: (540) 868-4593
Direct: (540) 868-4286
Fax: (540) 868-4391/4997

From: Federal Bureau of Investigation - FBI

An acknowledgement letter, stating the request is being processed.

From: MuckRock.com

To Whom It May Concern:

I wanted to follow up on the following Freedom of Information request, copied below, and originally submitted on July 18, 2014. Please let me know when I can expect to receive a response, or if further clarification is needed. You had assigned it reference number #1284912.

Thank you for your help.

From: Sobonya, David P.

Dear Maas,

Due to the voluminous requests that the FBI receives on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis, requesters are encouraged to utilize the online option to Check the Status of Your FOIPA Request by following the instructions in the attached sample. The last status update was performed on September 3, 2014.

Upon entering your FOIPA Request Number, the requester will be provided one of the following STATUS RESULTS:

The FBI’s FOI/PA Program is processing your request in accordance to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act guidelines. *The Disclosure analyst is making a line by line, page by page review of the records to determine if any redactions are required pursuant to subsections of Title 5, U. S. Code, Section 552 and 552a. Upon completion, the records are forwarded to a supervisor for review, if approved, a release will be forthcoming.

The FBI’s FOI/PA Program is searching the FBI’s indices for potentially responsive documents. You may be contacted via form letter for all fees and/or negotiation issues that may apply. *Requests are received by Initial Processing (IP) where they are opened, assigned a FOIPA Request Number and correspondence mailed to the requester. The IP analyst searches for, retrieves and reviews potentially responsive records. If responsive records are located, they are forwarded to Disclosure for processing.

The FBI’s FOI/PA Program has identified potential responsive information to your request(s) and is forwarding this request(s) for assignment to a FOI/PA Legal Administrative Specialist (LAS) for further processing. *Responsive records are forwarded to the Perfected Backlog where they await assignment to a Disclosure analyst for processing.

The information you have requested is part of a previously requested subject matter and will be preprocessed in accordance to the prior releasable information. *A previous request has already been made for the subject matter.

The request is currently in appeal status with the Office of Information Policy (OIP). *The FBI is not involved in the appeals process so please contact OIP’s Customer Service regarding appeal matters at (202) 514-3642.

The request is currently in litigation with Federal Court

The FOIPA number entered has been closed, and appropriate correspondence has been sent to the address on file. *Correspondence and/or a release of records were recently mailed. If you recently had a change of address please contact us at foiparequest@ic.fbi.gov.

Please contact me if you require further assistance.

Thank you,

*Material is provided for information purposes

David P. Sobonya
Public Information Officer/GIS
Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS)
FBI-Records Management Division
170 Marcel Drive, Winchester, VA 22602-4843
PIO: (540) 868-4593
Direct: (540) 868-4286
Fax: (540) 868-4391/4997

From: Federal Bureau of Investigation - FBI

A no responsive documents response.

From: Dave Maass

Hello -

Could you please run the search again, specifically looking at FBI interactions with PNNL. Could you also please "NextSentry," which is one of the entities behind ActiveSentry, to your search.

From: Sobonya, David P.

David P. Sobonya
Public Information Officer/GIS
Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS)
FBI-Records Management Division
170 Marcel Drive, Winchester, VA 22602-4843
PIO: (540) 868-4593
Direct: (540) 868-4286
Fax: (540) 868-4391/4997

From: MuckRock.com

To Whom It May Concern:

I wanted to follow up on the following Freedom of Information request, copied below, and originally submitted on July 18, 2014. Please let me know when I can expect to receive a response, or if further clarification is needed. You had assigned it reference number #1284912-000.

Thank you for your help.

From: Sobonya, David P.

Dear Mr. Maas,

Due to the voluminous requests that the FBI receives on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis, requesters are encouraged to utilize the online option to Check the Status of Your FOIPA Request by following the instructions in the attached sample. The last status update was performed on November 12, 2014.

Upon entering your FOIPA Request Number, the requester will be provided “ONE” of the following STATUS RESULTS:

The FBI’s FOI/PA Program is processing your request in accordance to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act guidelines. *The Disclosure analyst is making a line by line, page by page review of the records to determine if any redactions are required pursuant to subsections of Title 5, U. S. Code, Section 552 and 552a. Upon completion, the records are forwarded to a supervisor for review, if approved, a release will be forthcoming.

The FBI’s FOI/PA Program is searching the FBI’s indices for potentially responsive documents. You may be contacted via form letter for all fees and/or negotiation issues that may apply. *Requests are received by Initial Processing (IP) where they are opened, assigned a FOIPA Request Number and correspondence mailed to the requester. The IP analyst searches for, retrieves and reviews potentially responsive records. If responsive records are located, they are forwarded to Disclosure for processing.

The FBI’s FOIPA Program has identified potential responsive information to your request and awaits assignment to a Government Information Specialist (GIS) for further processing. *Responsive information was located and has been forwarded to the “Backlog” where the request awaits assignment to a GIS for processing.

The information you have requested is part of a previously requested subject matter and will be preprocessed in accordance to the prior releasable information. *A previous request has already been made for the subject matter.

The request is currently in appeal status with the Office of Information Policy (OIP). *The FBI is not involved in the appeals process so please contact OIP’s Customer Service regarding appeal matters at (202) 514-3642.

The request is currently in litigation with Federal Court

The FOIPA number entered has been closed, and appropriate correspondence has been sent to the address on file. *Correspondence and/or a release of records were recently mailed. If you recently had a change of address please contact us at foiparequest@ic.fbi.gov<mailto:foiparequest@ic.fbi.gov>.

Please contact me if you require further assistance.

Thank you,

*Material is provided for information purposes

David P. Sobonya
Public Information Officer/GIS
Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS)
FBI-Records Management Division
170 Marcel Drive, Winchester, VA 22602-4843
PIO: (540) 868-4593
Direct: (540) 868-4286
Fax: (540) 868-4391/4997

From: Federal Bureau of Investigation - FBI

A no responsive documents response.

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