FISA Court Admits That Snowden Debate Is Helpful, And That More Rulings Should Be Declassified
from the so-why-is-he-being-accused-of-espionage dept
Following closely on the news that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has admitted that the Snowden leaks have created a public discussion that “needed to happen” (even if he did everything possible to avoid it), now the FISA Court has basically said the same thing and also admitted that more rulings should be declassified and released publicly to contribute to that debate and (of course) to attempt to rehabilitate the FISA Court’s reputation. This comes in a new ruling about the ACLU’s attempt to declassify some key FISC rulings regarding Section 215 of the Patriot Act (the law that has been interpreted to allow for the mass collection of metadata on phone calls).
The unauthorized disclosure in June 2013 of a Section 215 order, and government statements in response to that disclosure, have engendered considerable public interest and debate about Section 215. Publication of FISC opinions relating to this provision would contribute to an informed debate. Congressional amici emphasize the value of public information and debate in representing their constituents and discharging their legislative
responsibilities. Publication would also assure citizens of the integrity of this Court’s proceedings.
In addition, publication with only limited redactions may now be feasible, given the extent of the government’s recent public disclosures about how Section 215 is implemented. Indeed, the government advises that a declassification review process is already underway.
In view of these circumstances, and as an exercise of discretion, the Court has determined that it is appropriate to take steps toward publication of any Section 215 Opinions that are not subject to the ongoing FOIA litigation, without reaching the merits of the asserted right of public access under the First Amendment.
Basically, the court is recognizing that the Snowden leaks have resulted in a useful conversation that has actually been hindered by the status quo secrecy of the FISC itself, and is moving to reveal more. It also recognizes that its own reputation has been trashed in part because of that secrecy. Of course, it could have (and perhaps should have) recognized all of this much earlier without these leaks. But just the fact that it didn’t shows how important the leaks have been for an informed discussion on the matter.
So… now that we’ve got both James Clapper and the FISC admitting that Snowden’s leaks have led to an important and necessary debate concerning the extent of surveillance by the federal government, can we finally agree that he’s a whistleblower… and also question why he’s been charged with espionage?