Since early June, the U.S. government has been slowly opening up about the NSA’s numerous surveillance programs in response to a number of leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Some civil liberty groups, however, think that the government isn’t being as transparent as they should be and have been pushing the government to release more data.
The Hill reports that the FISA court has sided with the ACLU in a motion filed by the organization that sought to have the government release documents pertaining to Section 215 of the Patriot Act. If you recall, defenders of the NSA say that Section 215 is what allows them to collect Americans’ phone metadata. With this win, the public will finally get to see the legal interpretation of Section 215 that allowed the NSA to collect phone records.
“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. “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.”
So, what’s next? Well, the government has until October 4 to submit all documents relevant to the surveillance court’s rulings on Section 215. At the time, the government must also propose which information in the documents should be redacted. After that, the documents will be thoroughly reviewed and then released to the public once all the proper redactions have been made.
As you can imagine, this is a pretty big win for the ACLU. In the past, the organization and others like it have lost similar motions and lawsuits that sought to sought to obtain more information about surveillance programs or even shut them down. With increased pressure from both citizens and Congress, the Obama administration really has no choice but to release the documents. Not doing so would continue to erode faith in the administration, and that’s one thing Obama has continually stated he would like to avoid.
It should be noted that today’s win does not cover the documents the ACLU is currently seeking to declassify in a lawsuit filed in New York. In that particular lawsuit, the ACLU claims the NSA’s phone metadata collection program violated Americans’ First and Fourth Amendments protections. In recent weeks, other organizations, like the NRA, have joined the lawsuit seeking the same disclosures.
[Image: Wikimedia Commons]