The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered yesterday that the government submit a detailed explanation of its conclusion that it does not have to declassify an opinion at the heart of an ACLU lawsuit requesting the legal rationale for the National Security Agency's surveillance of private citizens.
The U.S. Department of Justice wrote in court documents that, “After careful review of the Opinion by senior intelligence officials and the U.S. Department of Justice, the Executive Branch has determined that the Opinion should be withheld in full and a public version of the Opinion cannot be provided.” The FISA Court responded that the government submit the explanation of why the opinion, from February 2013, must remain classified in full and cannot be made public, even in a redacted form.
The American Civil Liberties Union in June asked the FISA Court to declassify opinions relating to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the provision that the government uses to obtain evidence in foreign-intelligence investigations. The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the ACLU’s motion.
In September, the FISA Court ordered the government to take specific steps to release the opinions.