I’m also the social guy at Backblaze, so I felt it was my duty to post it. After receiving many tweets like, “What’s @Backblaze going to do now that we can just rely on the NSA to keep a backup copy…”, I decided to make a funny quip about how restoring from Backblaze was much easier than from the NSA.
But how much easier is it, really? I decided to find out.
The Right Stuff
In order to “talk” to the NSA or other government agencies who collect or hold data, you need to fill out a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. What is the FOIA? Essentially it requires the federal government to release any requested information unless the release of said information is forbidden by law or executive order. It was intended to give more transparency to the government and let people know information from within large government organizations. FOIA requires agencies to respond to requests within 20 business days after receiving the request (http://www.dhs.gov/foia-processing), which sounds fairly quick, especially for the government. FOIA is only intended for citizens to request information about other things, not themselves. For that, you need to make a Privacy Act request. Unfortunately as per the NSA website for Privacy Act requests, there is no average processing time and the requests are handled on a first-in, first-out basis. Luckily though, you can submit a Privacy Act request via the internet, email, or by fax.
The First Attempt
Once I waded through all of the NSA’s websites and requirements for submitting a Privacy Act request, I sent one off via their email submission system. After about a week and a half, I got my response. Nope. The letter that the NSA sent me was well worded, and let me down gently. What it boiled down to was, they could not confirm nor deny that they had any information on me, and confirming or denying whether or not they did could potentially lead to adversaries of the United States knowing the full scope and breadth of the NSA’s ability to collect information, which they simply cannot allow.
“Therefore, your request is denied because the fact of the existence or non-existence of responsive records is a currently and properly classified matter…”