DOJ Argues Secret Ruling Over Secret Unconstitutional Surveillance Must Remain Secret Because It's Secret

by Mike Masnick
Techdirt
Jun. 10, 2013

About a year ago, after a lot of pressure from Senator Ron Wyden, the government finally admitted (late on a Friday) that, yes, indeed some of its surveillance efforts had been found unconstitutional for violating the 4th Amendment. But they didn't explain what, nor did they reveal the FISA court ruling which made that assessment. Since that time, the EFF has been fighting the government to get it to reveal the ruling. The DOJ refused to release it following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and later said that even if it wanted to, it can't release the document, because only the FISA Court (FISC) could release it. But, in an earlier ruling in a different case filed by the ACLU seeking to reveal a FISC ruling, FISC had said that FISC couldn't reveal it, and the ACLU needed to seek the document from the DOJ. In other words, both the DOJ and FISC are pointing fingers at each other, saying that only the other one can reveal the document. In response, the EFF has asked for confirmation from FISC that if a district court rules against the DOJ and tells it to release the document, that FISC will actually do so.

Now, the DOJ is fighting back with the most circular and ridiculous logic imaginable:
In its response filed with the FISC today, the government offers a circular argument, asserting that only the Executive Branch can de-classify the opinion, but that it is somehow prohibited by the FISC rules from doing so.

The government’s argument is guaranteed to make heads spin. DOJ earlier argued that it lacks discretion to release the FISC opinion without the FISC's consent, but DOJ now argues that if the FISC were to agree with EFF, “the consequence would be that the Government could release the opinion or any portion of it in its discretion.” But FISC material is classified solely because the Executive Branch demands that it be, so release of the opinion has always been a matter of Executive discretion.

Frankly, it’s difficult to understand what DOJ is saying. The Government seems to have a knee-jerk inclination towards secrecy, one that often – as in this case – simply defies logic. The government's bottom line is this: their rules trump the public's statutory rights. But it's not the province of the Executive branch to determine which rights citizens get to assert.
Basically, the finger pointing continues. However, considering the increasing concern about vast government surveillance, it certainly seems like the government should start looking into being a hell of a lot more transparent, and it could start by giving up this game and releasing that FISC ruling.

Doj Opposition to Eff Motion 06 07 13 (PDF)







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