Section 215 of the Patriot Act has been secretly interpreted by the government in ways, according to Senators briefed on the interpretation, that are misleading and would “stun” the American public. Today, EFF will ask a federal judge in Oakland to order the government to turn over those secret interpretations of the law.
As we mentioned yesterday, this week is Sunshine Week – a week dedicated to celebrating the promise of transparent and accountable government. And what better way to celebrate than by fighting against secret surveillance law in federal court?
The Section 215 case is one of three EFF has filed concerning the government’s secret interpretations of federal law. Section 215 amended the so-called “business records” provision of FISA, which allows the government to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for an order to compel companies to produce “any tangible things.”
Obviously, “any tangible thing” is exceedingly broad, and the companies who receive these orders are gagged from disclosing the very fact they received orders. The breadth of the provision coupled with the secrecy surrounding it makes transparency all the more vital to ensure democratic legitimacy and accountability – that is, making sure citizens understand and can ratify (or reject) how their government uses laws passed in their name.
So far, the government has fiercely resisted giving the public any information about their interpretation of the Section 215 provision. The government has asked the court in Oakland to allow them to withhold more than 2,000 pages of records with nothing more than a four-paragraph description of the records. The government also filed a secret declaration with the court that neither EFF nor the public are allowed to see.
But FOIA requires -- and a legitimate democracy demands -- more. And, today, EFF will continue its fight for more information and more accountability about the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215.
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