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Justice Department Ordered to Declassify the Documents that Justified Surveillance
The Justice Department has agreed to declassify portions of its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions. Specifically, as of Tuesday, they will make public a section of their documents that the government used to interpret Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which reads that the government must show it has “reasonable grounds to believe” that the records they are collecting are to be used “’to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” This section has been exploited by the government to set up the sort of surveillance systems that Edward Snowden revealed to the public. With the pressure that his disclosures put on the government, their hand has been forced.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, specifically, is seeking the material to be declassified. David Sobel, the foundation’s senior counsel, said it was “unfortunate” that it required his group to make a lawsuit for the documents to go public. “Significant decision of the FISA Court should be largely unclassified,” he said, as the Associated Press reported. “The release of these materials is overdue.”
Whether we could have gained this information without Snowden betraying the country is one thing, but then, we also must consider to what degree the government has betrayed us. “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended,” said then president George W. Bush, after the 9-11 attacks, which inspired the unpatriotic Patriotic Act. At this point we must regard that act as a sort of scab on a wound, and the surveillance activity of the NSA as a sort of nerve damage. If freedom is at stake, and if we are truly to regard the religious attacks of our country by terrorists as an assault on our understanding of freedom, then we absolutely must not give up our freedoms in exchange for mere security. As with all scabs, when the wound heals, we must peel it off.
The efforts of David Sobel have used the voice of Snowden and others to force the hand of the government. To defend the principles of the nation this government must be direct and transparent and represent the voice of the people. Snowden revealed that the NSA’s spying exceeded our expectations, and justly alarmed the nation.
The release of secret court documents comes after a federal judge in California made the order. The Justice Department said it was “Broadly construing” his order and will declassify more documents than required. The documents will be released to the Electronic Frontier Foundation as of Tuesday.