Amid the national debate over privacy and surveillance, the Justice Department is fighting a civil liberties group's effort to obtain a copy of a lengthy, secret court ruling that declared government monitoring of communications unlawful.
The Justice Department today filed papers in the Washington-based Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, saying "there is good reason not to vacate the seal on the opinion." The ruling—sealed by the surveillance court, and considered classified by the executive branch—is at the center of a Freedom of Information Act case pending in Washington federal district court.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued in August to try to get a copy of the surveillance court ruling. In the trial court litigation, the Justice Department said the surveillance court's rules don't allow the government to release the opinion and that DOJ doesn't have discretion to do so. Lawyers for the civil liberties group asked to put the case on hold to allow them to test the government's argument in the surveillance court itself.
"The fact that there are two separate reasons why [EFF] cannot obtain the FISC opinion it seeks—because it is properly classified by the Executive Branch and because it is under this court’s seal—does not imply a 'Catch-22,'" DOJ lawyers said today in the government's court papers.