Secret Surveillance Court Takes Small Step Towards Greater Transparency

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ordered the Department of Justice to conduct a declassification review of a 2008 FISC opinion that compelled Yahoo to participate in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) PRISM program and the briefs submitted by both parties Monday. Yahoo reportedly argued that the access required by the program, which allows the government to obtain information sent over the Internet, amounted to an unwarranted search and seizure that violated the Fourth Amendment, but the FISC disagreed and called their concerns “overblown” at the time. In an order signed by Judge Reggie B. Watson, the Court has now ordered:

1. The Government shall conduct a declassification review of (a) this Court’s Memorandum Opinion of April 25, 2008, and (2) the legal briefs submitted by the parties to this Court in the matter. After Such review, the Court anticipates publishing that Memorandum Opinion in a form that redacts any propertly classified information.

2. The Government shall report to the Court by July 29, 2013, with estimated dates by which it will be able to complete its review of the two categories of documents identified above. Priority should be given to the review of this Court’s Memorandum Opinion.

While the opinion leaked in 2009, Yahoo was only identified as the tech company in question in June following the NSA leak revelations about the PRISM program. Yahoo has since been asking the FISC to release their arguments in the case, saying it will demonstrate the company “objected strenuously” to government demands for consumer information, as well as provide public insight into the how the government surveillance programs are implemented.