In a June 5 letter to lawyers for the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network (SLDN), the National Security Agency (NSA) says it will “neither confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence” of information that may have been obtained through agency surveillance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

SLDN sought information, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, after media reports indicated the agency may have been monitoring groups and individuals opposed to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual personnel.

The letter was sent in response to SLDN’s appeal of NSA’s refusal to release any information related to that surveillance. The appeal was filed on SLDN’s behalf by the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP.

“2006 is the new 1984,” said SLDN executive director C Dixon Osburn. “The Federal Government’s Orwellian surveillance programs of ordinary, law-abiding citizens violates our right to privacy under current law. The government’s refusal to disclose its surveillance programs erodes the public trust.”

The NSA letter, from William Black notes that “any substantive response to [the original] request would tend to confirm or deny specific activities.” SLDN has up to five years to appeal the NSA’s response.

Last January, the Department of Defence acknowledged that it had “inappropriately” conducted surveillance on student protestors at several universities. The Pentagon has also indicated it has additional surveillance materials, in the form of government TALON reports, which will be released at a later date. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld has said the surveillance programme is “no big deal.”

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