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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Stop the Overblown Secrecy Claims, EFF Says

(CN) - The Electronic Frontier Foundation says the government should stop classifying already public information about its domestic surveillance programs.

Carolyn Jewel - represented by EFF - and Virginia Shubert are the lead plaintiffs behind a pair of federal complaints filed six and eight years ago, respectively, against the National Security Agency.

Both women claim that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the agency has embarked on a mass surveillance mission to collect telephone records and Internet metadata from companies like AT&T in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Last month, the government disclosed a number of previously classified declarations about the NSA's surveillance program, but these declarations were still heavily redacted, despite the wave of disclosures about the NSA's program that have been revealed in the wake of Edward Snowden's leaks to the press.

"Since June 2013, a substantial amount of information about the NSA's surveillance programs has been broadly disclosed," the EFF said in its response. "Much of this information has been disclosed directly by the government, either on its own or in response to documents published in the press that originated with Edward Snowden. Although in some instances the government has contested inferences some have drawn from those documents, the government has never contested the authenticity of any of the Snowden documents."

Nevertheless, the National Security Agency still claims in court that the disclosure of any material confirming or denying its telephone surveillance may harm national security.

"Despite the government's claims to the contrary, the fact that telecommunications companies - including AT&T and Verizon - have participated in the NSA's surveillance activities is hardly a secret," EFF says.

In addition to Snowden's revelations, the government has publicly released documents from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court discussing the collection of data from telecommunications providers, and the Senate has held hearings on the effectiveness of the surveillance programs in preventing terrorist attacks.

"Defendants' surveillance programs are no secret," the brief states. "Substantial admissions and other information exist in the public domain for this court to adjudicate the lawfulness of the government's programs without risking harm to national security. The disclosures of the past seven months amply demonstrate that fact. However, without full and complete access to materials in the record, the quick, effective, and reasonable resolution of this case will suffer. Plaintiffs respectfully request the court order the government to remedy the deficiencies described above."

The EFF also requested the declassification and release of any additional ex parte filings in this case so that the public record of the case is complete.

"The government has now publicly admitted much about its mass spying, but its filings before the court still try to claim broad secrecy about some of those same admissions," EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said in a statement. "It's long past time for the Department of Justice to stop using overblown secrecy claims to try to prevent an open, adversarial court from deciding whether the NSA's spying is constitutional."

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