WASHINGTON (CN) – Dealing a blow to government transparency, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court refused to shed light on redactions that pockmark a ruling from 2014 on the government’s legal basis for mass data surveillance.
The American Civil Liberties Union brought the challenge late last year, pushing the court to, in its words, unseal certain opinions that addressed the legal basis for the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection.
Presiding Judge Rosemary Collyer rejected the motion on Jan. 25, noting that what the ACLU characterized as sealed records have been public for at least two years.
“What the movants actually seek is access to the redacted material that remains classified pursuant to the executive branch’s independent classification authority,” the 42-page opinion says.
Though the ACLU says it has a First Amendment right t access the full opinion, Collyer disagreed, saying it failed to claim a legally protected interest, which is a necessary step in proving standing.
Since the ACLU was not a party to the shrouded cases, Collyer said it cannot show direct injury was made.
“By no means does this result mean that the opinions at issue, or others like them, will never see the light of day,” the judge added.
The proper way to fight redactions, the ruling notes, is to submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act and then ask a U.S. district court to review the executive branch’s response to that request.
Collyer, who otherwise presides in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, has been on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court since 2013 and its chief judge for nearly a year.
The ACLU’s request had called on Collyer to invoke Rule 62 so that the government would have to perform a classification review of all judicial opinions concerning the legality of bulk-data collection.
The government balked at this because it said the executive branch unsealed the four opinions sought by ACLU only after already conducting thorough classification reviews.
Collyer emphasizing that the FISC gave no sealing orders. “No such orders were imposed in the cases in which the sought-after judicial opinions were issued; consequently, no question about the propriety of a sealing order is at play in this matter,” the ruling states.
A representative from the ACLU did not return a request for comment.
The group brought the challenge with the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic.