NSA Plans Release of Info on Spying Program

     (CN) - The Justice Department will release "hundreds of pages" of declassified documents related to the legal justifications for its domestic spying program tomorrow.
     Tuesday's reveal comes two weeks after the Electronic Frontier Foundation won its challenge under a Freedom of Information Act for access to a 2011 opinion in which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found some of the National Security Agency's surveillance unconstitutional.
     The foundation won another concession last week on the heels of that victory, with the government agreeing to release hundreds of pages of documents related to the government's secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which it uses to justify its spying on millions of Americans' phone conversations.
     Newly disclosed documents will contain "significant documents, procedures, or legal analyses incorporated into FISC opinions or orders and treated as binding by the Department of Justice or the National Security Agency," government lawyers said in a Sept. 4 status report.
     The foundation noted that the disclosure does not let Uncle Sam off the hook.
     "The Justice Department may attempt to portray this release as being done out of the goodness of its heart and as a testament to its commitment to transparency," it said in a statement. "While we applaud the government for finally releasing the opinions, it is not simply a case of magnanimity."
     This release of new information is directly related to a lawsuit that the foundation filed on the two-year anniversary of the Patriot Act two years ago, it added.
     "For most of the duration of the lawsuit, the government fought tooth and nail to keep every page of its interpretations secret, even once arguing it should not even be compelled to release the number of pages that their opinions consisted of," the foundation said (emphasis in original). "It was not until the start of the release of documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that the government's position became untenable and the court ordered the government to begin the declassification review process."
     The organization noted that Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the author of the Patriot Act, submitted an amicus brief supporting the American Civil Liberties Union's challenge to the NSA's domestic spying program on the same day as the Justice Department announced it would disclose new documents.
     "In other words, even the author of Section 215 thinks the government has twisted and distorted its language to justify something that the law was never supposed to allow," the foundation said. "Now, we will finally see that tortured interpretation."
     A subset of remaining responsive documents face release by the Justice Department on Oct. 10, 2013.
     In the meantime, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers denied the pending cross-motions for summary judgment without prejudice to refiling after the department completes its document release.