The Dangers of Secret Law
Last week, the Department of Justice released 18 new FISC opinions related to Section 702 as part of an EFF FOIA lawsuit. (Of course, they don’t mention EFF or the lawsuit. They make it sound as if it was their idea.)
There’s probably a lot in these opinions. In one Kafkaesque ruling, a defendant was denied access to the previous court rulings that were used by the court to decide against it:
…in 2014, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) rejected a service provider’s request to obtain other FISC opinions that government attorneys had cited and relied on in court filings seeking to compel the provider’s cooperation.
The provider’s request came up amid legal briefing by both it and the DOJ concerning its challenge to a 702 order. After the DOJ cited two earlier FISC opinions that were not public at the time—one from 2014 and another from 2008—the provider asked the court for access to those rulings.
The provider argued that without being able to review the previous FISC rulings, it could not fully understand the court’s earlier decisions, much less effectively respond to DOJ’s argument. The provider also argued that because attorneys with Top Secret security clearances represented it, they could review the rulings without posing a risk to national security.
The court disagreed in several respects. It found that the court’s rules and Section 702 prohibited the documents release. It also rejected the provider’s claim that the Constitution’s Due Process Clause entitled it to the documents.
This kind of government secrecy is toxic to democracy. National security is important, but we will not survive if we become a country of secret court orders based on secret interpretations of secret law.