Feds: Even Though We've Been Ordered To Reveal Secret Interpretation Of The PATRIOT Act, We're Not Going To Do That
from the secret-laws! dept
You may recall that, back in early September, the FISA Court (FISC) agreed that its various rulings that secretly interpreted Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to mean something entirely different than any plain language reading of the law implies should be declassified. Here’s what the court said at the time:
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.
It then instructed the DOJ to figure out what to redact, so it could be declassified and released. Except… the DOJ instead fought that order, and while it did find some documents that meet the criteria — namely a ruling from February of this year — the DOJ is now telling the FISA Court that despite the order, it would really prefer to keep that interpretation of the law a complete secret. Actually, it goes further than that. It doesn’t ask for permission to keep it secret, it just says that it cannot reveal the interpretation.
After careful review of the Opinion by senior intelligence officials and the U.S. Department of Justice, the Executive Branch has determined that the Opinion should be withheld in full and a public version of the Opinion cannot be provided.
Got that? This secret court interpretation of a law that we all live under, which the court itself has ordered to be revealed, is unlikely to be revealed because the intelligence community really, really doesn’t want it revealed. Again, this is not about so-called “sources and methods.” This is entirely about understanding how a US court interprets a US law. But that interpretation is secret, meaning that the law itself is secret, and apparently the executive branch of the federal government is going to fight to keep it that way.