By Julian Hattem - 06/09/14 05:06 PM EDT
A group of conservative and environmental organizations is suing the National Security Agency (NSA) in order to obtain records about top officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, top EPA staffers have repeatedly flouted federal recordkeeping laws by using their personal phones and email accounts for work business. The group has tried to obtain those communications under a Freedom of Information Act request, but was told that, for instance, thousands of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s text messages had been deleted and could not be retrieved.
“Here there have been clear public admissions that the NSA has collected telephone and text message metadata, the very records requesters have sought,” the groups said in a lawsuit filed on Monday.
The three organization first asked the NSA for information about calls and text messages to or from McCarthy and former EPA chief Lisa Jackson last year.
In return, they got a message from the NSA saying that the spy agency “cannot acknowledge the existence or non-existence of such information,” since it is classified.
The groups assert that the secretive NSA program has been well publicized after it was revealed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden last summer, and since then has been repeatedly discussed by top officials including President Obama.
The NSA does not collect the actual content of people’s phone calls or texts, but instead stores metadata like which numbers were dialed and how long the call lasted.
Critics of the EPA have claimed that top regulators are doing too much work on their personal devices and through personal email accounts, which can allow some to hide information from the public. Jackson has been a prime target for many conservatives, who have pointed to evidence that she asked a lobbyist to email her on a personal account.