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FISA Court Denies Access To Wiretap Documents
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court denied on Thursday a second request from the American Civil Liberties Union that it open up its deliberations and issue unclassified rulings.
Following the passage and signing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act in early July, the ACLU filed a motion with the court to gain access to the unclassified portions of any rulings that pertained to the constitutionality of the act and to allow the group to file legal documents and argue in front of the court's judges. The court denied the requests, arguing that the potential for classified information to be compromised by such proceedings, which have not historically been public, was too great.
"Although it is possible to identify some benefits which might flow from public access to Government briefs and FISC orders ... the 'logic' test is not satisfied because any such benefits would be outweighed by the risks to national security created by the potential exposure of the Government's targeting and minimization procedures," the court stated in its ruling (pdf).
The court's ruling is the latest setback for civil-rights groups worried that the anti-terrorism powers granted to the executive branch of the U.S. government skew the checks and balances on power intended by the Constitution. The battle, which for the past 18 months had focused on amendments proposed to make wiretapping international terrorism suspects easier, largely ended when Congress passed a Bush Administration-approved bill expanding wiretap powers. Other versions of the bill would have allowed an investigation in the Administration's wiretapping actions since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Several media reports have described evidence that federal agencies had tapped into telecommunications networks and collected data on U.S. citizens as well as wiretapped communications between U.S. citizens and suspected terrorists.
The ACLU criticized the opinion strongly.
"The Bush administration says that the new law is necessary to protect the country against terrorism, but there's nothing in the law that prevents the government from monitoring the communications of innocent Americans," Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project, said in a statement. "Especially given the serious questions about the new law's constitutionality, the court's consideration of these issues should be adversarial and as transparent and informed as possible. The intelligence court should not be deciding important constitutional issues in secret judicial opinions issued after secret hearings at which only the government is permitted to appear."
Last year, the ACLU had made a similar request of the FISA court. That motion was also denied.
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Posted by: Robert Lemos