The Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability today announced the filing of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking records with information about any decisions, orders, or opinions issued by Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR), the court that reviews FISC opinions. PPSA’s FOIA also includes a request for agency records describing which government officials have access to such opinions.
PPSA directed its request to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and several offices within the Department of Justice – the National Security Division, the Office of Legal Policy, and the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties.
Thanks to the Snowden revelations, we know the FISC court since 9/11 has issued secret legal opinions that have resulted in allowing the National Security Agency to engage in bulk surveillance of Americans. Many in Congress were outraged by the revelations of this domestic surveillance, which flew directly in the face of assurances made by the then-Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and other intelligence officials.
In response, when Congress passed the USA FREEDOM Act in 2015, it required the government to review FISC opinions for declassification. The government interpreted this as a mandate to only disclose opinions after June 2015. The government then vets any disclosures by officials in the executive branch, without judicial oversight.
“The very idea of secret law – which can affect the free expression and privacy of millions of Americans – is not compatible with the basics of American democracy,” said Gene Schaerr, PPSA general counsel. “These secret precedents and opinions are corrosive to the operations of a free society. It’s time for the government to come clean.”