Update: As a result of the petition, the federal court and prosecutors agreed in 2018 to implement new docketing and reporting procedures that will allow for greater public access to the judicial records sought by The Stranger.
EFF is representing The Stranger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, in a petition to unseal secret government electronic surveillance dockets and requests in the Western District of Washington federal court. The petition was filed in November 2017.
The government routinely asks courts around the country for electronic surveillance warrants and non-warrant orders under seal. Although the First Amendment and historic practice generally require judicial records and proceedings to be open to the public, these surveillance materials effectively remain sealed without giving the public a chance to scrutinize them. This secrecy is especially problematic because the government has a lower burden of proof to obtain non-warrant surveillance orders. These warrantless orders can be used to reveal intimate private information like our location, call history, and email records and thus need to be examined closely to ensure the government doesn’t abuse this power.
Given The Stranger’s history of covering stories that focus on law enforcement surveillance capabilities and its commitment to government transparency, it’s petitioning the Western District of Washington—home to companies like Microsoft and Amazon—to unseal electronic surveillance orders and warrants filed with the Court.
Our co-counsel in this case are Geoffrey M. Godfrey, Nathan T. Alexander, David H. Tseng of Dorsey Whitney LLP’s Seattle, Washington office.