A secret foreign intelligence appeals court released a previously sealed decision this week in which the court held constitutional the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping of Americans’ conversations and emails.
The appellate decision was reached late last summer, upholding a 2007 ruling of the lower intelligence court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Both courts operate in secret; this is the second time in the intelligence courts’ 30 year history that the appellate court has issued a major ruling, according to The New York Times.
The decision focused on the constitutionality of the Protect America Act of 2007, a temporary law signed by President George W. Bush that authorized wiretapping. The law has since expired and warrantless wiretapping is now governed by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, passed in July.
The suit was brought by a telecommunications company that had been directed to acquire communications from its customers. It is unclear which company brought the suit since the court redacted the name before releasing the opinion.
The case dealt solely with Fourth Amendment concerns about wiretapping under the Protect America Act. However, the American Civil Liberties Union is currently challenging the FISA Amendments Act in a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan. The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief in that case, urging the court to find that warrantless wiretapping violates the First Amendment rights of journalists to interview confidential sources over the telephone.