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Obama fights to keep U.S. surveillance court secret

By Reuters
July 6, 2013

A keypad is seen on a public phone. (REUTERS/Tim Wimborne)

A keypad is seen on a public phone. (REUTERS/Tim Wimborne)

The Obama administration on Friday urged a secret U.S. court that oversees surveillance programs to reject a request by a civil liberties group to see court opinions used to underpin a massive phone records database.

Justice Department lawyers said in papers filed in the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the court’s opinions are a unique exception to the wide access the public typically has to court records in the United States.

If the public had a right to any opinion from the surveillance court, the possible harms would be “real and significant, and, quite frankly, beyond debate,” the lawyers wrote, citing earlier rulings from the court.

The American Civil Liberties Union had asked the court last month to release some of its opinions after Britain’s Guardian newspaper revealed a massive U.S. government database of daily telephone call data, prompting a worldwide debate about the program’s legality.

The Guardian’s report was based on a document provided by fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, since charged criminally with leaking U.S. government secrets. Snowden is believed to be at an airport in Moscow, his U.S. passport having been revoked by Washington.

To justify the database, U.S. officials point to a provision of the U.S. Patriot Act that requires companies to turn over “tangible things,” although before the Guardian’s report it was not publicly known that the Justice Department and the surveillance court interpreted the term to mean entire databases in bulk.

Some U.S. senators had said in 2011 that Americans would be stunned and alarmed if they knew how the government was interpreting parts of the Patriot Act.

Although the Justice Department said the surveillance court should not grant the ACLU’s request, it wrote that the court is free to release opinions on its own under certain rules. The government is considering declassifying yet more records to help the public understand the surveillance programs, it added.

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Copyright  © 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

 

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8 Responses to Obama fights to keep U.S. surveillance court secret

  1. Keith

    July 6, 2013 at 8:52 am

    “Justice Department lawyers said in papers filed in the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the court’s opinions are a unique exception to the wide access the public typically has to court records in the United States.”

    A “unique exception”??????

    Where in hell the 4th Amendment does it allow for such “unique exceptions”, to wit:

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    Again, would someone please tell me where in that 4th Amendment does it allow for “unique exceptions”…particularly the widespread interception and storage of people’s private e-mails and telephone calls to forever keep on file in some CIA, NSA computer “just in case”.

    Where is the “probable cause” in any of THAT activity?

    Sadly, the United States has now become an ever-expanding “police state” of overpaid bureaucrats and lawyers (not to mention a burgeoning para-military armada at the federal, state and local level loosely called “law enforcement”) with FAR too much unaccountable power.

    Clearly, the US Judiciary has become yet ANOTHER willing co-conspirator in the massive, pumped-up fraud called the “War on Terror”.

    It is often said that we get the government we deserve. I’m more inclined to say we get the government we allow.

    Indeed, there are over 15 Million people in the United States who are now “functionally illiterate” (that is, people with reading and writing skills that are inadequate to perform the activities of daily living). Then there’s the tens (if not hundreds!) of millions more who don’t have a flipping clue as to how the US Government works….and could care less.

    With upwards of half the people in the country who can’t comprehend what US Constitution says (or could care less) along with some 15 million more who can’t even read it, it’s no wonder we are now getting the “government we deserve”.

    To me, so-called “government” at all levels in the United States of America is no longer a “government of, by and for the people”.

    It’s now become a “police state” run by (often un-elected) power-hungry “law-enforcers”, over-paid bureaucrats along with crooked politicians in bed with dirt-bag lawyers.

  2. Carl Nemo **==

    July 6, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    What most people don’t realize as myself, the FISA court has been in existence since 1978.

    It’s composed of a rotating panel of mostly judges that were Republican administration appointees. The judges are rotated and serve a seven year appointment to the ‘secret’ court.

    First of all secret courts are anathema to the American justice system. It’s a politically created monster, unchallenged by the people’s reps in the House of Representatives, who seemingly have been facilitators for such even prior to 911.

    There’s no ad hoc jury in the grand jury sense to listen to the evidence presented and for citizens to make a determination whether the government case to surveil anyone or institution is valid.

    This secret court is for the most part a ‘rubber stamp’, kangaroo styled form of injustice.

    *****

    “If the public had a right to any opinion from the surveillance court, the possible harms would be “real and significant, and, quite frankly, beyond debate,” the lawyers wrote, citing earlier rulings from the court.” …extract from article

    ***

    “Some U.S. senators had said in 2011 that Americans would be stunned and alarmed if they knew how the government was interpreting parts of the Patriot Act.” …extract from article

    *****

    These extracts along demonstrate how our now elitist government thinks of “We the People”; I.E., the tax slaves who pay the freight for these arcane, unconstitutional briefs

    • Keith

      July 6, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      “If the public had a right to any opinion from the surveillance court, the possible harms would be “real and significant, and, quite frankly, beyond debate,” the lawyers wrote, citing earlier rulings from the court.” …extract from article”

      Carl,

      As I noted earlier, if the “public had a right” to view opinions from the surveillance court, my hunch is that most couldn’t comprehend the meaning of what they were reading. And a good chunk of the rest could care less.

      That’s because upwards of 100 million Americans have never had even a basic civics lesson as to how the US Government works.

      And, for certain, at least 15 million functionally illiterate Americans (which, by the way is nearly 5% of the total US population…and fully HALF the population of Canada!) wouldn’t even able to READ the damned things!

      • Carl Nemo **==

        July 6, 2013 at 8:32 pm

        Hi Keith…

        I agree with your assessment, but it’s my feeling with only federal judges impaneled to sit on this ‘secret court’ their should be a counterbalance of some form; I.E., a “We the People’s” advocate/attorney/s within the chamber to offer counter arguments to whatever is being proposed such as gathering telephone records from all carriers as well as emails from domestic sources and whatever other cockamamie unconstituional schemes they might be hatching against our citizenry.

        Our Constitional government was designed to operate from a brilliantly constructed system of checks and balances. These illegal though Congressionally enfranchised court proceedings have no checks against, bad, unilateral and possibly politically motivated decisions in terms of the surveillance of American citizens.

        Upon viewing a link concerning the FISA court, I thought it interesting that the majority of the judges are Republican appointees and there seems to be a lack of balance, not that modern day Democrats are much better. President Obama is a Democrat and he wants to maintain this ‘secret court”, business as usual. Since it was founded in 1978, which was on President Jimmy Carter’s watch, what does that tell us? Seemingly the Democratic party has long since not been a friend of the common man with an interest in protecting their 4th Amendment rights. The Republican have always been identified with the monied class along with their ‘conservative views’ and we know how they stand. They no doubt consider the unwashed masses a threat to their incumbency and societal status…no?

        With the majority of judges having been Republican era appointees, I’d say they would whole-heartedly be following a rabid neocon agenda when it comes to law enforcement. We’ll never know for sure, but assuming such is not far out of line.

        The only thing I can do as a citizen is to contact my Congressional District rep as I’ve done to date and so too contribute to the Rand Paul class action lawsuit against the NSA. I suggest more citizens do the same if they care about possibly reining in this nasty situation.

        The average John and Mary Q. Citizen has no need to get involved with the minutes of such proceedings, but surely there should be a contingent of educated attorneys representing targeted individuals within these proceedings rather than leaving it up to a group of federal judges to decide who should be surveilled up to including who lives and who should die in the case of targeting designated enemies of the state with drones in time. Indeed, this is a scary situation for freedom loving peoples for all time and places…!

        Carl Nemo **==

        • Keith

          July 7, 2013 at 5:26 pm

          “…but surely there should be a contingent of educated attorneys representing targeted individuals within these proceedings rather than leaving it up to a group of federal judges to decide who should be surveilled up to including who lives and who should die in the case of targeting designated enemies of the state with drones…”

          It seems to me this is what the 2nd Amendment (vice the 4th) is all about.

          With some 300 million firearms now in private hands in the United States, I’m just waiting for the first NSA, CIA or police state drone that takes a round of buckshot in a critical place (or collides with a commercial jetliner in flight due to an idiot “pilot” who doesn’t know how to fly the damned thing) which causes one (or both) to come tumbling down into some populated urban area and kills a bunch of people.

          Only THEN might the American people begin to wake up to the horrendous loss of freedoms our bloviating politicians and snooping bureaucrats have been stealing from us over these many years

          Right now, as you so eloquently point out, their dastardly deeds are all being done out of plain sight.

  3. Carl Nemo **==

    July 6, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    break…

    These extracts alone demonstrate how our no elitist government thinks of “We the People”, I.E., the tax slaves who pay the freight for thse arcane, unconstituional briefs and opinions from administration toadies.

    Carl Nemo **==

    Note: my apologies for the break. I fat-fingered my keyboard and accidently sent prior to proofreading the doc.

  4. Paul

    July 7, 2013 at 6:04 am

    I especially like how in one step the gov. will claim that certain digital things can be taken (or copies thereof) because they’re not physical goods and don’t really exist, but then they turn around with the next step and say that tangible goods do include the exact same thing, under some other “law”.

  5. Carl Nemo **==

    July 10, 2013 at 4:01 am

    As an addendum to related commenatary for this July 6 article, I ran across a link where a former FISA Court Judge, James Robertson, concurs that the court needs a ‘people’s advocate’ providing counter arguments to requests for surveillance on behalf of the NSA vs. “We the People”.

    Judge Robertson who resigned in 2005 claims the court is not simply a “rubber stamp” process, but for judges to reach decisions properly they need to hear two sides of an argument whereas that is not possible under the current arrangement.

    So too the court proceedings degenerated from simply a process for surveilling individuals and organizations to forcing them to endorse wholesale monitoring of various classes of communications during the Bush era and has no doubt continued under Obama & Co. without any genuine ability to oppose such on their behalf which in a way forces them to become a ‘rubber stamp’ op for the NSA’s benefit, so too our now seemingly anti/unconstitutional rogue leadership.

    I’ll provide the link so others can read the content of this fascinating expose’ concerning the inner workings of the FISA Court.

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/07/09/former-judge-admits-flaws-in-secret-court/

    Carl Nemo **==