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ACLU asks FISC to unseal rulings limiting scope of US surveillance powers

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion [PDF text; press release] Wednesday with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court [official backgrounder] asking the court to "disclose recent legal opinions discussing the scope of the government's authority to engage in secret wiretapping of Americans." The ACLU's request includes a recently disclosed FISC decision [JURIST report] restricting the government's monitoring of e-mail and telephone conversations of suspected terrorists in foreign countries. According to the ACLU motion:

Pursuant to Rule 7(b)(ii) of this Court's Rules of Procedure Effective February 17, 2006 ("2006 FISC Rules"), the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") respectfully moves for the unsealing of (i)orders issued by this Court on January 10th, 2007 (the "January 10th orders"; (ii) any subsequent orders that extended, modified, or vacated the January 10th orders, and (iii) any legal briefs submitted by the government in connection with the January 10th orders or in connection with subsequent orders that extended, modified, or vacated the January 10th orders. The ACLU respectfully requests that all such documents (collective, the "sealed materials") be made public as quickly as possible with only those redactions essential to protect information that the Court determines, after independent review, to be properly classified.

The sealed materials are vitally important to the ongoing national debate about government surveillance and the disclosure of the sealed materials would serve the public interest. The Attorney General referenced and characterized certain of the sealed materials in explaining why the President discontinued a warrantless surveillance program that he had inaugurated in late 2001. The House Minority Leader referenced and characterized certain of the sealed materials in advocating that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA") be amended for the ninth time since the September 2001 terrorist attacks. Members of Congress referenced and characterized certain of the sealed materials in explaining their support for the amendments. Over the next six months, Congress and the public will consider whether these amendments should be made permanent. Publication of the sealed materials will permit members of the public to participate meaningfully in this debate, evaluate the decisions of their elected leaders, and determine for themselves whether the proposed permanent expansion of the executive's surveillance powers is appropriate.
President Bush on Sunday signed the Protect America Act 2007 [S 1927 materials; JURIST report], legislation that gives the executive branch expanded surveillance authority for a period of six months while Congress works on long-term legislation to "modernize" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text; JURIST news archive].

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero urged the FISC to unseal the documents, saying:
Unless the FISA court discloses the documents leading up to the recent law and shedding light on the government's claimed surveillance authority, an informed and meaningful debate - the cornerstone of our democracy - cannot occur. A conversation about a threat to our most precious constitutional rights and liberties should not occur in a factual vacuum.
Reuters has more.

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