Press Releases

Demand Progress Applauds Order to Declassify Significant FISA Court Surveillance Opinions

CONTACT: Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel, [email protected], (570) 798-7678

Today, the House Committee on Appropriations passed a Defense Appropriations bill report that requires the Director of National Intelligence and Attorney General to conduct within one year a declassification review of legally significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) opinions and to make them publicly available consistent with provisions of the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015. Though this was the clear intent of Congress in 2015, the government has refused to conduct this review and publish significant opinions from before enactment of that bill.

The following comment may be attributed to Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel at Demand Progress:

“The executive branch has hidden abuse of its surveillance powers behind the secrecy of the FISA Court for far too long. By ordering the Director of National Intelligence and Attorney General to declassify and release these legally significant FISA Court opinions, the House has taken a major step toward ensuring Congress and the public know how intelligence agencies are interpreting the laws that protect Americans’ privacy. There are still many questions about how intelligence agencies came to conduct mass surveillance of people in the United States and how Congress can reverse these Constitutional abuses, and this is a critical piece of that puzzle.”

The declassification and release direction are available on page 338 of the Defense Subcommittee Appropriations Report. Demand Progress and Demand Progress Education Fund are leading efforts to strengthen accountability and transparency around domestic surveillance, including by requesting this reform in the Defense Appropriations bill and through an outstanding FOIA request and lawsuit that identify several key questions of law that the government may be relying on to conduct secret domestic surveillance in the absence of Congressional and court authorization (more context about the FOIA is available here, and about the related lawsuit here).