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Secret terrorism court orders declassification of its own rulings

By George Chidi
Saturday, September 14, 2013 17:43 EDT
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NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
 
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The Edward Snowden leaks may have helped the ACLU win a victory in America’s most secretive courtroom Friday.

Court cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — the court that reviews requests by the NSA to wiretap suspected terrorists’ communications — are generally classified. But Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered the government to review the court’s opinions on the meaning, scope, and constitutionality of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible things” relevant to foreign-intelligence or terrorism investigations.

Section 215 is the legal basis the NSA claims legitimizes its mass phone records collection program. The very arguments the NSA uses to justify the program are, currently, classified, which have caused incredible frustration among policy makers hoping to describe their objections to current practice.

“We are pleased that the surveillance court has recognized the importance of transparency to the ongoing public debate about the NSA’s spying,” said Alex Abdo, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, in a statement Friday.”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.”

Saylor gave the government until October 4 to identify court opinions on Section 215 and set a timetable for declassification review.

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSA’s mass phone records collection program. Oral argument in the case is scheduled for November 1 in New York, the ACLU said.

 
 
 
 
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