The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says that the National Security Agency's claims of secrecy on information that has already been widely released due to leaks by Edward Snowden are overblown and no longer "secret." The advocacy group made its comments in an official response in its ongoing court battle with the agency over the unconstitutionality of its surveillance programs.
The EFF is representing lead plaintiffs Carolyn Jewel and Virginia Shubert, who filed complaints six years ago in San Francisco Federal District Court against the National Security Agency. The plaintiffs accuse the agency of using the Terrorist Surveillance Program enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, to eavesdrop on millions of phone calls in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Last month, the government disclosed a number of previously classified declarations about the NSA's surveillance program, but these declarations were still heavily redacted. Some of the redacted information was previously disclosed by the Snowden leaks.
"Since June 2013, a substantial amount of information about the NSA's surveillance programs has been broadly disclosed," the EFF said in its response. "Much of this information has been disclosed directly by the government, either on its own or in response to documents published in the press that originated with Edward Snowden. Although in some instances the government has contested inferences some have drawn from those documents, the government has never contested the authenticity of any of the Snowden documents."
The NSA still claims in court that the disclosure of any material confirming or denying its telephone surveillance may harm national security.
"Despite the government's claims to the contrary, the fact that telecommunications companies – including AT&T and Verizon – have participated in the NSA's surveillance activities is hardly a secret," EFF continued.
"Defendants' surveillance programs are no secret," the EFF's brief states. "Substantial admissions and other information exist in the public domain for this court to adjudicate the lawfulness of the government's programs without risking harm to national security. The disclosures of the past seven months amply demonstrate that fact. However, without full and complete access to materials in the record, the quick, effective, and reasonable resolution of this case will suffer. Plaintiffs respectfully request the court order the government to remedy the deficiencies described above."
The EFF also asked for the declassification and release of any additional ex parte filings relevant to this case so that the public record of the case is complete.
"The government has now publicly admitted much about its mass spying, but its filings before the court still try to claim broad secrecy about some of those same admissions," EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said in a statement. "It's long past time for the Department of Justice to stop using overblown secrecy claims to try to prevent an open, adversarial court from deciding whether the NSA's spying is constitutional."
Source: Courthouse News