FISA Court Puts Government On Timeline To Declassify Past NSA Spy Authorizations

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The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) – the secretive court whose purpose is to hear one-sided requests from Federal law enforcement to conduct undisclosed spy operations against Americans and foreigners – ordered the government Friday to make a case for why its cloak-and-dagger operations shouldn’t be declassified.

Giving the government until Oct. 4 to pick and choose examples of past FISC cases that demonstrate why Section 215 of the Patriot Act forms a Constitutional basis to keep dragnet surveillance on citizens a secret, the court essentially placed the burden of proof back on the government – something the court has rarely done in all its years of rubber-stamping the Feds’ warrant requests.

The ruling comes on a motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Access Information Clinic. Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible things” to aid in counterintelligence operations and terror investigations. It’s the part of the Patriot Act most frequently invoked by the Department of Justice in requesting broad and secret search warrants on behalf of the FBI, NSA and other Federal enforcement offices.

“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.”

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.