The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court today ruled that the Justice Department must begin reviewing for release secret opinions about the collection of Americans’ telephone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV gave the government until Oct. 4 to review past FISC opinions on Section 215 and set a timetable for declassification review.
The Justice Department had objected to releasing these opinions, contending that the American Civil Liberties Union and the Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Clinic, which brought the suit, lacked standing. But Saylor found the “claimed injury is actual, rather than imminent: the Section 215 Opinions are not now available to the public.”
“The unauthorized disclosure in June 2013 of a Section 215 order, and government statements in response to that disclosure, have engendered considerable public interest and debate about Section 215,” Saylor wrote. “Publication of FISC opinions relating to this provision would contribute to an informed debate.”
The judge further suggested that the publication of select FISA opinions “would also assure citizens of the integrity of this court’s proceedings.”
The ACLU welcomed today’s ruling. “For too long, the NSA’s sweeping surveillance of Americans has been shrouded in unjustified secrecy. Today’s ruling is an overdue rebuke of that practice. Secret law has no place in our democracy,” said Alex Abdo, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, in a statement.
The order does not address the civil liberties organization’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, which is pending in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.