Documents on secret court rulings for NSA operations to be released

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The Obama administration on Tuesday will release more than 1,000 pages of declassified documents, including formerly secret court filings and rulings, that explain how the government has interpreted the Patriot Act to justify its broad collection of data about Americans’ phone calls and emails.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which sued for the release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), said it had been told pick up a compact disc with electronic copies of the documents from the court between 4 and 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“They said there would be between 1,000 and 1,500 pages,” said the foundation’s spokesman, David Maass.

Mr. Maass cautioned that copies of such documentation in the past had been released early and directly via a social media website established by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper.

The administration “may attempt to portray this release as being done out of the goodness of its heart and as a testament to its commitment to transparency,” said foundation blogger Trevor Timm.

But he noted in his blog that the Justice Department “is releasing this information because a court has ordered it to do so” in response to the foundation’s FOIA lawsuit.

Mr. Timm said the Justice Department had spent the two years since the lawsuit was filed on the 10th anniversary of the enactment of the Patriot Act fighting “tooth and nail to keep every page of its interpretations secret, even once arguing it should not even be compelled to release the number of pages that their opinions consisted of.”

The documents being released Tuesday relate to secret interpretations of Section 215 of the Patriot Act — the so-called “business records” provision that allows the government to issue secret orders compelling companies to turn over their records and bar them from revealing the seizure.

Top-secret documents leaked in June by former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden showed that the NSA has used a secret and very broad interpretation of Section 215 to force U.S. telephone companies to hand over data about every call made in the United States. The NSA has amassed a giant database of the caller, destination, time and duration of Americans’ phone calls for the past five years.

Officials from several government departments declined to comment in advance of the court-ordered release, but one said that several officials would be conducting a conference call with reporters to discuss the release.

The call will be on background — meaning the officials, even though taking part in a departmental public affairs event, cannot be identified by name. It is scheduled to take place several hours before the documents are to be released.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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