Justice Still Stonewalling on NSA Spy Program

(CN) - The Justice Department continues to stonewall public records requests for secret court authorizations of NSA spying programs, a digital rights watchdog group claims in court.
     The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the Justice Department in District of Columbia Federal Court, demanding responses to four outstanding Freedom of Information Act requests.
     The foundation says the unsatisfied FOIA requests - filed between August 2013 and March this year - seek key Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions and orders that authorized NSA spying as far back as 2002.
     The watchdog group claims that in all four cases the Justice Department granted an expedited processing request, meaning that DOJ's national security division had 20 days from the date the request was received to produce relevant documents.
     "To date, and despite granting each of plaintiff's requests for expedited processing, the national security division has not released a single document responsive to these FOIA requests," according to the complaint.
     The foundation said in a statement that the most significant of its requests seek details about the FISA court's secret 2002 order weakening restrictions on interdepartmental sharing of data collected about private citizens.
     Details of that opinion, known as the "Raw Take" order, were revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
     The foundation said it also demanded a pair of FISA court opinions from 2007 that authorized and then stopped an NSA program for warrantless content collection, approved by President George W. Bush.
     The group said it is also waiting for a FISA court opinion that explored the legality of NSA surveillance, as well as any Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review decisions and related appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court on NSA surveillance that remain classified.
     "With all the disclosures that have taken place over the past year, there's no valid reason these opinions are still secret," EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel said. "The government's refusal to provide these opinions looks more like an attempt to control public opinion about the NSA's operations, rather than protecting any legitimate intelligence sources or methods."
     The lawsuit is the latest in a series of challenges to still-secret NSA programs the EFF has filed in the past year. The group also has taken on the Senate Intelligence Committee, calling lawmakers' efforts to clip the NSA's wings a "fake fix."
     "We can't have an informed debate about mass surveillance with access to only half the story," EFF staff attorney Mark Rumold said. "The government's secret interpretation of laws and the Constitution needs to end. Disclosure of the opinions we've requested will be an important step towards providing the public with the information it needs to meaningfully debate the propriety of these programs."