EFF Victory Results in Release of Secret Court Opinion Finding NSA Surveillance Unconstitutional
Update: In response to EFF's FOIA lawsuit, the government has released the 2011 FISA court opinion ruling some NSA surveillance unconstitutional.
For over a year, EFF has been fighting the government in federal court to force the public release of an 86-page opinion of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Issued in October 2011, the secret court's opinion found that surveillance conducted by the NSA under the FISA Amendments Act was unconstitutional and violated "the spirit of" federal law.
Today, EFF can declare victory: a federal court ordered the government to release records in our litigation, the government has indicated it intends to release the opinion today, and ODNI has called a 3:00 ET press conference to discuss "issues" with FISA Amendments Act surveillance, which we assume will include a discussion of the opinion.
It remains to be seen how much of the opinion the government will actually make available to the public. President Obama has repeatedly said he welcomes a debate on the NSA's surveillance: disclosing this opinion—and releasing enough of it so that citizens and advocates can intelligently debate the constitutional violation that occurred—is a critical step in ensuring that an informed debate takes place.
Here are examples of documents previously released by the administration in response to our Freedom of Information Act request. Anything even resembling those "releases" would be utterly unacceptable today. But we've come a long way since then—it took filing a lawsuit; litigating (and winning) in the FISC itself; the unprecedented public release of information about NSA surveillance activities; and our continuing efforts to push the government in the district court for release of the opinion.
Release of the opinion today is just one step in advancing a public debate on the scope and legality of the NSA's domestic surveillance programs. EFF will keep fighting until the NSA's domestic surveillance program is reined in, federal surveillance laws are amended to prevent these kinds of abuse from happening in the future, and government officials are held accountable for their actions.