Obama admin says disclosing secret court opinion on illegal spying could damage national security
By End the Lie
In yet another move proving the Obama administration is far from the most transparent in history, it has now told a federal judge that disclosing a secret opinion on the government illegally spying on Americans could likely cause “exceptionally grave and serious damage to the national security.”
This came in response to a lawsuit that would force the disclosure of an opinion by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the court that oversees the warrantless wiretapping program which the White House claims is immune to lawsuits.
This court authorized every single request from the government in 2011 and when documents related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) were recently requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), those who requested them received documents that were almost entirely redacted.
According to Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, the FISA court found “on at least one occasion” that the government’s “minimization procedures” used while conducting surveillance breached he Fourth Amendment. Now that ruling is being sought out.
In this latest attempt to avoid having to actually be transparent, the Obama administration said that the disclosure of that secret opinion would implicate “classified intelligence sources and methods” and thus, “The government has determined that disclosure of the information withheld from Plaintiff could result in exceptionally grave and serious damage to the national security.”
The ruling was sought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) as part of a FOIA request which has now become a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after the government rejected their request.
When it comes to the government’s claims about the disclosure of the opinion, Jacqueline Coleman Snead, a senior Justice Department counsel, said the EFF “obviously cannot contend otherwise.”
If this information was released, it could shed light on the entire current surveillance program under the 2008 FISA Amendments Act that legalized the Bush-era warrantless wiretapping program which began soon after September 11, 2001.
Currently, the FISA Amendments Act gives the government the ability to conduct e-mail and telephone surveillance on a massive scale within the United States without probable cause warrants.
All the government has to do is claim that the people or groups targeted are “reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.”
“In other words, the government can collect e-mails and phone calls in the United States so long as the target is a suspected terrorist group overseas,” explains David Kravets. “If the government collects e-mails that are sent by people believed to be American, the person’s identity is supposed to be given a pseudonym or ‘minimized.’”
The glaring problem is that since the rulings are secret, it’s impossible to know just how restricted this type of surveillance is and given what Wyden said last year, we can safely assume it’s not carried out in the manner we might hope for.
The government wants to keep the opinions secret because, according to Kravets, “the FISA Amendments Act generally requires the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to rubber-stamp terror-related electronic surveillance requests.”
Under the law, the government doesn’t even have to directly identify the target of the surveillance or the facility to be monitored.
The surveillance can begin an entire week before the government even makes the request, and keep in mind the vast majority of those requests, in some years all of them, are approved.
In the incredibly rare case that the court rejects a government surveillance application, the surveillance can actually continue during the entire appeals process.
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