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

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.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

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 The amendment was withdrawn, however.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.

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