ACLU: Surveillance Court should operate more transparently and release key rulings

The American Civil Liberties Union today submitted comments on new rules recently proposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) regarding public disclosure of court records. The ACLU urged the FISC to amend its proposed rules to allow for greater transparency by requiring judges to disclose to the public any significant legal rulings that interpret the scope or constitutionality of controversial surveillance statutes, with properly classified information redacted where necessary.

The FISC, which was created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, reviews national security-related surveillance applications under FISA, the 2008 FISA Amendments Act (FAA) and the Patriot Act. It also resolves challenges brought by companies from which the government has demanded access to customers’ private communications and records. The court operates in almost complete secrecy and its rulings, including rulings on important legal questions, are automatically withheld from the public.

In the comments submitted today, the ACLU called on the court to amend its proposed rules to ensure the release of certain significant legal rulings, including those that deal with the scope, meaning and constitutionality of the FAA. The ACLU is challenging the constitutionality of the FAA, which gave the National Security Agency virtually limitless power to conduct dragnet, warrantless monitoring of Americans’ international communications. The ACLU is awaiting a ruling from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in that case. The FAA will expire in 2012 unless Congress extends it or makes it permanent.

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