Over the objection of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court today ordered the government to conduct a declassification review of rulings that address the provision of federal law that allowed the government to collect data on hundreds of millions of phone calls.
The American Civil Liberties Union in June asked the surveillance court to disclose opinions that evaluate the "meaning, scope and constitutionality" of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. Under that provision, the National Security Agency obtains phone record data, including the time and duration of calls, from major telecommunications companies.
In ordering the government to conduct a declassification review, U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV, who sits on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, today noted the ongoing, national debate about the scope of surveillance. That debate began this summer after The Guardian newspaper published a series of stories based on FISA court and other information former NSA contractor Edward Snowden obtained.
"The unauthorized disclosure in June 2013 of a Section 215 order, and government statements in response to that disclosure, have engendered considerable public interest and debate about Section 215," Saylor, a federal trial judge in Massachusetts, wrote in today's ruling. "Publication of FISC opinions relating to this provision would contribute to an informed debate."