Surveillance Court Tells Government To Prepare for Release of NSA Spying Opinions

Judge F. Dennis SaylorU.S. District Court, District of MassachusettsThe Obama administration claims that National Security Agency Spying on the American public and the world at large has been ruled perfectly legal by the courts. So far, we've had to take their word for it that it's true, and that the reasoning behind any such findings is sound. Why? Because the court opinions themselves are classified. So secretive snooping, revealed only by the actions of a whistleblower, is A-OK, because...it's a secret. Well, all right, then. Perhaps surprisingly to government officials, this argument has proven unconvincing to much of the public, with many people demanding to know just how the government threaded its way through that inconvenient Fourth Amendment. We may soon find out. A Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge ordered the government, just this morning, to prepare to release those opinions, or else explain why not.

Ruling on a motion brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (PDF), Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV (pictured) dismissed government objections to releasing court interpretations of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The key language is below:

By October 4 the government (and, to the extent particularly identifying information is available to it as plaintiff in the FOIA litigation, the ACLU) shall make a written submission identifying which Section 215 Opinions are subject to the FOIA litigation. By that same date, the government shall identify which Section 215 Opinions, if any, are not subject to the FOIA litigation (or a separate order under Rule 62(a)) and propose a timetable to complete a declassification review and submit to the Court its proposed redactions, if any, for each such Section 215 Opinion. After that review and submission, the author of each such opinion, with the benefit of any proposed redaction, may decide whether to propose publication pursuant to Rule 62(a).

Specifically, the plaintiffs in the case ask for all opinions regarding the "meaning, scope, and constitutionality of Section 215 of the Patriot Act."

The Rule 62(a) referred to in the opinion is a FISC rule allowing judges to order publication of their own opinions, which provides a second track for seeking release of the court's opinions separate from the freedom of information suit.

Exempted from the order are rulings subject to a separate freedom of information ACLU lawsuit brought in 2011 and still being litigated. The opinions released earlier this week were in response to that lawsuit. They demonstrated that the NSA has gathered far more domestic data than its supposed to under rules established by the FISC, and that it has done so repeatedly.

What we'll find in the next release of court opinions is anybody's guess, but given the government's stiff opposition to anything resembling transparency, it should be interesting.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...demanding to know just how the government threaded its way through that inconvenient Fourth Amendment.

    The Fourth Awhatment? Oh, I will see those opinions will be released when I believe it. The government will have some completely valid - and secret - reason why they can't be seen by the general public on whom they're spying who they are protecting.

  • Dweebston||

    Why are you being obtuse? The Fourth Amendment doesn't protect against seizure of telephonic metadata and electronic transmissions, because once those signals leave the premises from which they originate, they're fair game for government eavesdropping. Despite having to go through backchannels coerced from service providers and seizing data warrantlessly, with few disclosures and no external legal scrutiny.

  • R C Dean||

    The Fourth Amendment doesn't protect against seizure of telephonic metadata and electronic transmissions mail or packages, because once those signals items leave the premises from which they originate, they're fair game for government eavesdropping.

  • Rasilio||

    Yeah, if you could get those TPS reports for me that'd be Great

  • Sevo||

    "After that review and submission, the author of each such opinion, with the benefit of any proposed redaction, may decide whether to propose publication pursuant to Rule 62(a)."

    Does this mean that the judge who wrote a specific opinion can choose to publish it or not?

  • CatoTheElder||

    "with the benefit of any proposed redaction"

    I expect a lot of black rectangles will obscure each page such that the real intent of the most egregious rulings will remain unknown.

    Still, Snowden and Putin should share the Peace Prize this year. If they don't, the prize has lost whatever credibility it still has.

  • Brian D||

    FYTW, of course.

  • juris imprudent||

    You keep using that word - transparency. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • Chewbama||

    "Surveillance Court Asks Snowden To Release NSA Spying Opinions"

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