News in Brief

FOIA scorecard, an NSA lawsuit, USPTO's new director and more

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FOIA report card shows federal agencies missing the mark

Federal agencies are still mostly failing to live up to the promise of the Freedom of Information Act, according to the annual report of watchdog group Center for Effective Government.

The report looked at how well agencies were setting and abiding by disclosure rules, hosting "user friendly" FOIA request web services, and processing requests according to established timelines. The Department of Agriculture was the top performer, earning an overall grade of 'B' in the report, while the State Department was at the bottom, getting an 'F' -- largely because of its failure to process FOIA requests.

The report also noted that some agencies maintain outdated FOIA regulations. Eight of the 15 rated agencies posted improvement in their online FOIA services, including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

NSA, DOJ sued over surveillance program

The Wikimedia Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and eight other organizations filed suit March 10 against the National Security Agency and the Department of Justice to challenge the NSA's mass surveillance program.

The suit alleges that the NSA's "upstream surveillance" that taps into the Internet's backbone to capture communications with "non-U.S. persons" also casts a wide net over Net users worldwide.

In a blog post on the foundation's web site, senior legal counsel Michelle Paulson and general counsel Geoff Brigham said the lawsuit aims to "end this mass surveillance program in order to protect the rights of our users around the world."

"The program casts a vast net, and as a result, captures communications that are not connected to any 'target,' or may be entirely domestic," the post states. "This includes communications by our users and staff."

Lee confirmed as PTO director

The Senate confirmed former Google executive Michelle Lee as director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by voice vote on March 10.

Lee, who had been PTO deputy director, was nominated last October by President Barack Obama to serve as director of the agency. The post has been vacant for about two years. The last director was David Kappos, who left in February 2013.

Lee joined the agency in January 2014. Prior to joining PTO, Lee served as deputy general counsel at Google, and was the company's first head of patents and patent strategy.

Iranian who hacked FAA sentenced

A 41-year-old Iranian man who hacked a Federal Aviation Administration database to steal the personal information of a licensed pilot was sentenced March 9 to just over two years in prison for identity theft.

Nader Ali Sabouri Haghighi, 41, pleaded guilty last November to charges he stole personally identifying information from the FAA's online Airman Services Records System database, which is used by the agency to monitor and regulate persons authorized to fly aircraft.

The Justice Department said in a statement that he used stolen identity information to log into the system, then changed the victim's contact information and profile to his own information. He then requested a replacement Airline Transport Pilot certificate, the FAA's top pilot authorization, and a flight instructor certificate, using a fraudulent credit card to pay for both.

DOJ said it had no evidence he was involved in terrorism. According to the department, Haghighi was looking to fly multi-engine planes for profit.

While in possession of the stolen ATP certificate, in September 2012 Haghighi crashed an airplane in Bornholm, Denmark, where he then faced criminal charges, court records said. He was later arrested in Panama and extradited to the United States last August.

Who's missing from the CIO IT Solutions Challenge?

Federal CIO Tony Scott's new challenge program for federal IT and acquisition workforces is missing a key ingredient, Washington Technology suggests. What about the private sector?

"I think the challenge is a great idea," Washington Technology Editor-in-Chief Nick Wakeman wrote in a March 9 blog post, "but there has to be more involvement from all the stakeholders and constituencies. It has to include contractors, IT leaders, and the actual users of the IT systems that are being procured."

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