Feds plan to release details of secret spy court

The Obama administration is releasing hundreds of previously classified documents detailing activities of the country

FILE - This June 6, 213 file photo shows the sign outside the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md. The NSA has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the intelligence agency broad new powers in 2008, The Washington Post reports. In one case, telephone calls from Washington were intercepted when the city's area code was confused with the dialing code for Egypt. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Obama administration is releasing hundreds of previously classified documents detailing activities of the country's long-secret spy court that authorizes domestic surveillance programs.

In a court filing last week, the U.S. Department of Justice said it will turn over the documents to the Electronic Frontier Foundation by Tuesday. EFF officials said they'll receive the documents in disk form and it will take some hours for technicians to upload the documents to the civil liberty group's website later Tuesday.

The DOJ told a federal judge in Oakland last week it was turning over the documents to partially settle a lawsuit EFF filed for access to court orders, administration memos and other information government officials relied on to design and implement a domestic surveillance program. That program was initially revealed a decade ago by newspapers and a telecom worker who claimed first-hand knowledge of the surveillance.

The EFF's lawsuit against telecommunication companies for allegedly participating in the surveillance was tossed out when Congress granted the industry immunity. The group's lawsuit against the government seeking the documents was languishing for years until former intelligence worker Edward Snowden released detailed information about the domestic surveillance program earlier this year, reigniting public debate and prompting widespread calls for more public information about the surveillance programs and the secret federal court that authorizes them.

EFF lawyers called the Snowden disclosure a "tipping point" for the Obama administration that "forced their hand" for more disclosure.

Steven Aftergood, head of a project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said he hopes the documents will show how the secret Foreign Intelligent Surveillance Court operates.

The surveillance court, known as FISC, was established in 1978 to oversee domestic surveillance operations, and little is known about it. The court's proceedings are conducted behind closed doors, and all its rulings are considered classified. Up until now, only a few of the court's opinions have been made public.

Aftergood said he is particularly interested in how judges interpreted federal law concerning espionage in crafting their rulings allowing surveillance. He's also looking to see how government officials interpreted those rulings.

"There are indications that there have been some very creative interpretations," Aftergood said. "There's a lot we just don't know, and there are likely to be a few surprises."

The DOJ said in a court filing last week that it would turn over to EFF "orders and opinions of the FISC issued from Jan. 1, 2004, to June 6, 2011, that contain a significant legal interpretation of the government's authority or use of its authority under" a section of the U.S. Patriot Act.

The section of the act allows the government to seize a wide range of documents. It requires the government to show that there are "reasonable grounds to believe" that the records are relevant to an investigation intended to "protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."

The DOJ said it will also release "significant documents, procedures, or legal analyses incorporated into FISC opinions or orders and treated as binding by the Department of Justice or the National Security Agency."

DOJ lawyers are also reviewing a second batch of documents for declassification by Oct. 31.

The Obama administration's decision in the case comes just two weeks after it declassified three secret FISA opinions — including one in response to a separate EFF lawsuit in the federal court in Washington. In that October 2011 FISA opinion, Judge James D. Bates rebuked government lawyers for repeatedly misrepresenting the operations of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. He said the government's "upstream" collection of data — taken from internal U.S. data sources — was unconstitutional. Portions of that order remain blacked out.

On Wednesday, while the Justice Department said it would declassify documents in the California case, it asked a judge in the Washington case to rule that it can continue to black out those materials in the October 2011 FISA opinion. Among other reasons given, the government says that disclosure could damage national security.

Associated Press
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Join the Conversation!

To comment, the following rules must be followed:

  • No Obscenity, Profanity, Vulgarity, Racism or Violent Descriptions
  • No Negative Community Comparisons
  • No Fighting, Name-calling, or Personal Attacks
  • Multiple Accounts are Not Allowed
  • Stay on Story Topic

Comments may be monitored for inappropriate content, but the station is under no legal obligation to do so.
If you believe a comment violates the above rules, please use the Flagging Tool to alert a Moderator.
Flagging does not guarantee removal.

Multiple violations may result in account suspension.
Decisions to suspend or unsuspend accounts are made by Station Moderators.
Links require admin approval before posting.
Questions may be sent to webmaster@wvlt-tv.com. Please provide detailed information.

powered by Disqus

WVLT VOLUNTEER TV

6450 Papermill Drive Knoxville, TN 37919 Phone - (865) 450-8888; Fax - (865) 450-8869
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2014 WVLT-TV Inc. - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 223100721 - local8now.com/a?a=223100721