Secret Spy Court Rules ACLU Case Can Move Forward

First-Ever Decision From Full Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Means ACLU Can Seek Secret Opinions

November 9, 2017 4:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled today that a case seeking some of the court’s secret decisions authorizing government mass surveillance activities can proceed. It is the first time that the court has issued a decision from all of its member judges.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) filed the case in 2013 following the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. They sought FISA Court opinions discussing the legal basis for the bulk collection of records of Americans’ internet-usage history, location information, and other data or records collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Knight First Amendment Institute is co-counsel on the case.

In January, a FISA Court judge dismissed the request, ruling that the ACLU and MFIA did not have standing to bring the case. But today, the full court reversed that decision in a 6–5 vote, ruling that the groups can pursue the documents under the First Amendment right of the public to access court documents.

“This ruling is a win for transparency against the government’s efforts to keep its mass surveillance regime hidden from public scrutiny,” said ACLU attorney Brett Max Kaufman. “Secret law is incompatible with democracy, and uncovering classified court rulings is key to rolling back government spy programs that infringe on Americans’ privacy rights.”

Today’s ruling is here:

More information on the case is here:

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