This week the United States Department of Justice finds itself in court, facing a new Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit for refusing to release legal opinions and other documents related to surveillance laws as they were being written over the course of the last two decades. In accordance with US law, the Justice Department is required to make all advisory legal opinions afforded to them a matter of public record, something that the plaintiffs are arguing the department has failed to do. This information is important to uncover because it would show the logic behind how the Government goes about drafting surveillance laws or perhaps more importantly, how they have chosen to ignore US laws while doing so.
The case is formally being brought forward by a group known as “The Campaign for Accountability,” a small organization advocating for Federal transparency. According to a lawsuit filed in a Washington D.C. courtroom this week, the group is “challenging the failure of the US Department of Justice to comply with its mandatory, non-discretionary duty under 5 U.S.C & 552(a), to make publicly available on an ongoing basis opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel, that are statements of policy and interpretations.” Through this lawsuit, the organization hopes to force the Government to “provide an index of such opinions” for public review.
View The Official Suit Here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3893083-Campaign-for-Accountability-Complaint.html
Considering that the Office of Legal Counsel is a branch of the Government that offers legal advice to various agencies as they go about drafting new proposals and legislation, by uncovering this information, the plaintiffs hope to observe where and how the US Government has knowingly chose to violate US law as they were developing new surveillance programs in the past.
Speaking towards the spirit of the 4th Amendment and how it has gone largely ignored in modern day surveillance legislation, in an article published last November, The Daily Proletariat pointed out how “The men and women who carry out mass surveillance on behalf of the United States government, legally or otherwise, are granted immunity to hack into the lives of United States citizens, be it through phones, computers, technological data –et cetera – and literally carry out actions that would land an ordinary – non-government – citizen or hacker in jail for decades.” The article also points out how this has been “done in the Spirit of the Patriot Act, passed in 2001 under President Bush” and that “this legislation essentially called for less privacy and more blanket surveillance in the name of National Security.”
Towards the end of the article, I also pointed out how “the FBI and NSA belong to the Executive Branch” and that it would take a different branch of Government, “the Judicial Branch, to ultimately reel them in and hold individual members of our Government accountable for their actions – or at least stop them from continuing in the immediate future.” I do not bring this up to brag, I bring this up because it is actually incredibly relevant dialogue to the lawsuit now being brought forward this week.
For example, one of the first major organizations to cover this lawsuit was Human Rights Watch, whom on July 19th 2017 reported:
To add a little more perspective to the news this week, several high ranking advisory officials within the United States Government have recently gone on to resign their positions. This includes the Chairmen of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and the Director of the office of Government Information Services, whom have each essentially resigned in protest of the Governments decision to withhold information from the public in regards to surveillance data and for blatantly ignoring their advice while drafting surveillance laws throughout the past.
Perhaps more importantly, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is set to expire at the end of this year, and will be up for renewal by the United States Senate shortly. I would think it would be incredibly relevant information for members of the Senate to read what some of the Nations top legal minds have said about surveillance laws in the past and then cross-reference this against where various intelligence agencies have or have not taken this advise into consideration.
Somewhat related, a little over a month ago the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also filed a Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in order to uncover documents confirming whether or not the FBI has been complying with US law regarding the use of gag orders in association with National Security Letters (NSL), which legally forbids people, persons or companies from publicly disclosing they are under investigation by the FBI. This lawsuit came as a follow up to a previous lawsuit filed against the FBI in 2015, which they lost, requiring the agency to disclose all such information. The EFF simply wanted to touch base with the FBI and make sure they had been complying with court orders in regards to surveillance requests since the time of their last lawsuit.