The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, ruled Wednesday that it has no objection to the release of a 2011 opinion of the court, which found that some of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs under the FISA Amendments Act, were unconstitutional.
A 2011 FISC court ruling had concluded that some of the NSA’s surveillance programs had violated sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, a law aimed at protecting American citizens from surveillance programs targeted at foreigners.
The nation’s most secretive court, as it has been called in the media, said that the 86-page classified opinion can be made public if a district court orders it.
On Friday, the Department of Justice, or DoJ, had argued that the court’s opinion must remain secret and its release of the opinion would contradict the FISC's own rules on disclosure of classified documents, according to NBC News.
However, the court’s chief judge, Reggie Walton, rejected the DoJ’s arguments and said that the document, which is in the possession of the department, could be released under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, NBC News reported.
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"It is fundamentally the Executive Branch's responsibility to safeguard sensitive national security information," Judge Walton wrote in the order, according to the Huffington Post. "As a general matter, it would be redundant for this Court to impose on the Executive Branch additional restrictions."
The ruling is significant as the NSA’s PRISM program, which has sparked public outrage over Internet users’ privacy rights, is based on the same sections that the FISC found was circumvented by the security agency.
San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, had filed a lawsuit last year seeking a release of the FISC court's 2011 opinion.
However, the ruling will not make the opinion immediately available to the public, and EFF will have to pursue the matter in a lower court -- where it initially filed its plea -- which would then decide whether the document is eligible to be released under FOIA.
EFF attorney Mark Rumold welcomed the court’s ruling and said it is the first victory for a non-governmental party in the FISC.
"It's important to know that while this is a victory, it is a pretty modest one," he said. "It's the FISC realizing that the Department (of Justice) was making crazy arguments, and they quickly got rid of it. Now we have to go right back to the district court." said Mark Rumold, according to the Huffington Post.