Secret interpretation of FISA snooping law released... (sort of)

Secret interpretation of FISA snooping law released... (sort of)

Summary: A U.S. privacy group has been successful in getting a document released that details how U.S. authorities interpret the FISA snooping law. The trouble is, most of it isn't readable.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been successful in having a secret document released by the U.S. government, that helps U.S. authorities to interpret the federal snooping law, the Foreign Intelligence Services Act (FISA).

The trouble is, the document is pretty much entirely all redacted. (So much for transparency...)

In a nutshell, last month the U.S. Congress reauthorized the FISA Amendments Act for another five years, allowing the U.S. government and its law enforcement agencies to conduct "unconstitutional surveillance," according to the EFF. However, the law is complicated and lengthy, and there is a "secret interpretation" of the law that allows U.S. authorities to know whether or not they can conduct wiretapping and snooping on U.S. citizens and non-residents.

Here's the only bit that you can see:

The 'secret interpretation' of FISA. Credit: EFF.

It's not much, but it's a start. But, as you might imagine, the EFF is far from happy about the result of its Freedom of Information request to the U.S. government.

Just in case you can't read it, it says:

(U) The Government has provided copies of the opinions and the filings by the Government to this Committee, and the Government will continue to inform the Committee about developments in this matter.

In 2011, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) submitted an amendment to Congress that would have forced the U.S. Attorney General to disclose the government's interpretation of the Act. The amendment was withdrawn, however. 

The secret interpretation has been condemned by senators, who have on many occasions complained that FISA was being "secretly interpreted in ways that differ markedly from the language of the statute." 

The Foreign Intelligence Services Court (FISC), in which FISA warrants go through -- which has been previously been discussed -- are held in secret and there are no public records. The interpretations of the law are thought to be contained in the opinions issued by the FISC, and these opinions are -- as you might expect -- completely secret. 

The EFF explains it in full. It's a good read -- go and check it out.

Topics: Privacy, Government US, Security

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  • Ignorance is bliss/not bliss

    There is no upside for this sort of stupid government behavior: while the Constitution doesn't explicitly include the right to privacy, it's been long held that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution covers this: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    That "unreasonable searches" bit, though, has been chronically misused as a loophole for all sorts unwarranted domestic surveillance. Good, heads-up investigations, whether at the local cop level or at the the FBI level, very rarely need any additional "help" in the form of Patriot Act-enabled rubbish; whereas investigations that depend on shady domestic snooping are usually indicative of laziness that almost always result in shoddy or useless results. Good investigators don't need to cheat.

    Of more consequence is that the net effect of making a lot of people annoyed and distrustful of government, usually crossing ideological lines, and giving support to hacktivists who are being seen more and more as the last bastion of a truly free press that monitors and calls out bad government behavior.
  • The thing with secret interpretations is...

    ...they're not at all binding on judges.

    I do think that government lawyers should be contractually bound to defend any legal advice they give to government officials in court. Thus, while I think the decision not to prosecute John Yoo for the torture memos was correct; I would have required him to represent in court those who were prosecuted and/or sued for following his advice.
    John L. Ries
  • Combine FISA with NDAA...

    So now we have secret interpretations with the NDAA's secrecy & indefinite seizure of your person, and we have the ability of the Federal Government to imprison you for any reason (or none) and never tell you (or anyone else) where you are, why you are held, where they got the information, what the information was, or anything else. And there is NO recourse, not even from the Supreme Court who's original purpose was exactly that. Half of the Bill Of Rights gone, in two little laws.
  • It's just another step...

    ...toward the new world order. The entire world will eventually be governed as one massive police state which monitors and dictates every aspect of our daily lives. It will be done in the name of keeping us "safe." Every nation participating in this long term goal has to eliminate all citizen rights and protections one by one. It's already been happening for many years. The apathetic sheeple of the world probably won't even care when it the police state is fully implemented. Only those of us who value freedom and free thought will object.
    • You will...

      "And the company that will bring it to you is AT&T."
      The Werewolf!
  • On security

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin, 1775