In June 2013, we filed a motion asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to unseal its opinion(s) interpreting Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to allow the NSA to collect “metadata” on hundreds of millions of domestic telephone calls. Over the government’s opposition, the court ordered the government to conduct a declassification review of those opinions, and to release declassified versions.

Subsequently, it became clear that additional opinions of the FISA Court approving the bulk collection of Americans’ information existed and remained secret—for example, opinions approving the bulk collection of Internet communications metadata and cell-site location information (programs disclosed by Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing).

So in November 2013, we filed this new motion before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court asking it to unseal its opinions addressing the legal basis for the bulk collection of this additional data. In response, the government argued that our motion should be dismissed “because the relevant opinions have been subjected to classification review and the unclassified portions released, and there is no basis for the Court to order a new classification review.”

In February 2014 we replied, arguing principally that an executive branch classification review does not satisfy the requirements imposed by the First Amendment for keeping judicial opinions secret, and that the court has an independent obligation to decide what to disclose. In August 2014, the court ordered the government to prepare and declassify a redacted version of a relevant FISC opinion. The government did so and filed it on the public record on August 27, 2014.

The public filings in this case can all be found on the court’s website here.

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, Yale Law School

Date filed

June 10, 2013