After classified documents leaked earlier this month exposed the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance program known as PRISM, civil rights activist Jonathan Corbett began mailing the agency hundreds of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on behalf of citizens wanting to know what intelligence had been collected about them. 

On Friday, the NSA sent Corbett an email asking him to stop. 

Through his website, My NSA Records, Corbett has solicited almost 500 FOIA requests, which he mailed to the agency earlier this week.

“I appreciate what you are trying to do by providing a service to individuals to submit requests to us; however, it is not a very efficient way to do this,” an NSA liaison officer wrote in the email to Corbett. “Many of the requests that you forwarded to this office do not contain a complete mailing address. Therefore, we cannot respond to those requests, and the individuals will not know why.” 

Corbett told the Daily Dot that he estimated about 5 percent of the requests he sent had incomplete addresses but “enough that I felt that USPS would probably have sufficient information to route the mail. The remaining 95 percent sent to the NSA had full addresses.”  

The NSA’s email goes on to suggest that instead of mailing the requests, Corbett furnish his users with a link to the agency’s online submission page. “This will allow them to submit requests directly to this Agency in a timely manner and will provide more assurance that the information is complete,” the liaison officer wrote. “We do answer each and every request that we receive.”

Certainly, streamlining the process online would be a more efficient way to submit the requests. But Corbett’s project is largely about making the NSA aware that people are disturbed by PRISM. The disruption caused by his paper requests no doubt only serves to punctuate this statement. 

Ultimately, Corbett said he would leave it up to his users how to proceed. “If people would still prefer to submit paper requests, I will continue to send them,” he said.

Photo by Avi/Flickr