The legal body that oversees Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants has ruled against the Justice Department‘s assertion that groups outside the government should not be allowed to access FISA court opinions.
BuzzFeed News reported that on Friday, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review’s ruling against the DOJ came in a case that many press freedom advocates saw as a test of whether the secretive spy court’s proceedings or opinions would ever be open to the public.
Rather than ruling that the press and public can access the court, the FISCR instead took on the DOJ’s assertion that non-government groups don’t even have the right to ask for the information under the First Amendment.
Despite the ruling seen as a win by free speech groups, the three-judge panel noted that “the FISC is a unique court” and is subject to different standards based on the sensitivity of the material they rule on.
“[The FISC] is responsible for reviewing applications for surveillance and other investigative activities relating to foreign intelligence collection,” the judges noted. “The very nature of that work, unlike the work of more conventional courts, requires that it be conducted in secret.”
The court and its secretive procedures have come under scrutiny in recent months after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee began alleging that the DOJ and FBI abused their powers under FISA to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Page’s surveillance when working for the campaign were the focus of a memo authored by GOP members of the committee, but the operative had been the subject of FISA warrants since at least 2014 when the FBI became suspicious of his ties to Russia.