Court Orders Department Of Justice To Privately Produce Secret Surveillance Court Documents

Today, Judge Yvonne Rogers of the District Court, Northern California District ordered that the Department of Justice produce documents relating to five Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) decisions.

The documents won’t be released to the public, but the decision grants the Judge the ability to review in private the material that the government doesn’t want released.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation brought the suit. The group is hailing the decision as “another victory” in its effort to demand documents from the government so that it can better understand “how the government uses Section 215 of the Patriot Act to secretly gather communications records from millions of American citizens.”

The documents in question aren’t random. Judge Rogers states in her order that “the Court finds that the public’s interest in the documents withheld is significant. [As the] scope and legality of the government’s current surveillance practices of broad swaths of its citizenry is a topic of intense public interest and concern.”

The decision isn’t without its sharper points, with Judge Rogers at one point stating that there is “evidence” that in the past, whole documents were withheld from the public when “a disclosure of reasonably segregable portions of those documents would have been required.”

It’s up to the judge to decide what happens with the document next. But as the EFF notes, the order “reveals an appreciation of the civil liberties concerns, as well as skepticism of the government’s blanket refusal to release any portion of the opinions.”

It’s been a rough few weeks for those in favor of surveillance reform. Good news is a welcome respite.