[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday let stand an appeals court ruling that said the US Department of Justice (DOJ) could refuse to release a 2010 memo regarding phone record collection under an exception to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [FOIA portal]. The court will not hear an appeal from civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation [advocacy website], which wants to make public an internal DOJ memo allowing the FBI to informally obtain phone records. The appeal argued that the public has a right to know how the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel authorized the FBI to access phone records from telephone companies for investigations on terrorism. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] the memo is exempt from disclosure as part of the government’s internal deliberations.
Revelations surrounding National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. In December the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] ruled [text, PDF] that the NSA’s PRISM [JURIST backgrounder] program is legal. Also in December the US released documents [JURIST report] concerning the origins of NSA surveillance. In September of last year the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court released [JURIST report] a previously classified opinion [text, PDF] explaining why a NSA program to keep records of Americans’ phone calls is constitutional. Also last year the American Civil Liberties Union urged the Obama administration [JURIST report] to curb the FBI’s surveillance powers. In August 2013 the Council of Europe [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward in early June 2013 as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal [JURIST podcast]. JURIST Guest Columnist Christina Wells argues that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act [text], under which Snowden is charged, raise significant First Amendment concerns [JURIST op-ed].