SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Obama administration is releasing hundreds of previously classified documents detailing activities of the country's long-secret spy court that authorizes domestic surveillance programs.
In a court filing last week, the U.S. Department of Justice said it will turn over the documents to the Electronic Frontier Foundation by Tuesday. EFF officials said they'll receive the documents in disk form and it will take some hours for technicians to upload the documents to the civil liberty group's website later Tuesday.
The DOJ told a federal judge in Oakland last week it was turning over the documents to partially settle a lawsuit EFF filed for access to court orders, administration memos and other information government officials relied on to design and implement a domestic surveillance program. That program was initially revealed a decade ago by newspapers and a telecom worker who claimed first-hand knowledge of the surveillance.
The EFF's lawsuit against telecommunication companies for allegedly participating in the surveillance was tossed out when Congress granted the industry immunity. The group's lawsuit against the government seeking the documents was languishing for years until former intelligence worker Edward Snowden released detailed information about the domestic surveillance program earlier this year, reigniting public debate and prompting widespread calls for more public information about the surveillance programs and the secret federal court that authorizes them.
EFF lawyers called the Snowden disclosure a "tipping point" for the Obama administration that "forced their hand" for more disclosure.
Steven Aftergood, head of a project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said he hopes the documents will show how the secret Foreign Intelligent Surveillance Court operates.
The surveillance court, known as FISC, was established in 1978 to oversee domestic surveillance operations, and little is known about it. The court's proceedings are conducted behind closed doors, and all its rulings are considered classified. Up until now, only a few of the court's opinions have been made public.