“The needless secrecy surrounding the surveillance court is bad for the court, the intelligence agencies and the public – and it is also unconstitutional,” write three seasoned civil liberties experts in today’s New York Times.
The op-ed, signed by David Cole, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, supports an ACLU petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s secret opinions.
They recount some useful history. That court authorized the government to collect records on most phone calls made or received in the United States, detailing who called whom, when, and for how long – all without any suspicion of illegal activity.
In another opinion, the court upheld the government’s practice of scanning Americans’ emails for intelligence purposes as those communications enter and leave the country.
More recently, it permitted the FBI to fish for information about Americans in huge databases of international emails, online messages and web chats obtained without probable cause.
Four days ago, PPSA filed an amicus brief in support of the ACLU petition. PPSA asked the Court to consider the following question:
“How can the American people learn of, debate, and cast informed votes relating to what the Executive Branch—or, for that matter FISC [the ‘secret surveillance court’] —is doing in their names if the government refuses to disclose that information?”
In today’s op-ed, the authors note that the “surveillance court’s suggestion that it is not subject to the usual constraints of the First Amendment – and, indeed, that it lacks authority even to consider the First Amendment question – has only engendered suspicion of the court, and of the surveillance the court approves.”
For all these reasons, PPSA will continue to vigorously support ACLU’s petition.