FISA court orders feds to declassify more opinions

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders the White House to release more of its reports, directly citing document leaks from Edward Snowden.

Declan McCullagh/CNET

Some branches of the US government might be changing their tune about Edward Snowden.

Pointing to National Security Agency documents that Snowden leaked, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor ordered the Obama administration on Friday to declassify the legal opinions that involve Section 215 of the Patriot Act written after May 2011 that aren't currently being subject to Freedom of Information Act lawsuits by October 4.

Saylor ruled in favor of an American Civil Liberties Union FOIA lawsuit (PDF) to force more government transparency about its actions. In it, Saylor basically says that now that the cat is out of the bag, it's in the government's interest to "contribute to an informed debate," The Washington Post reported.

"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," Saylor said. "Publication of FISC opinions relating to this opinion would contribute to an informed debate."

The decision is limited to orders not currently involved in litigation because the ACLU is suing the government to disclose more FISA court rulings under FOIA in another court. However, Saylor said after that case is resolved, the ACLU might be able to come back to the FISC and ask again.

Saylor's ruling is the second note of contrition struck by the US government in as many days. As the Post noted, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Thursday said, "I think it's clear that some of the conversations this has generated, some of the debate, actually needed to happen."

"If there's a good side to this, maybe that's it," he said.

So far, though, the Justice Department's charges against Snowden for espionage remain in effect.

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