Aug 11 The U.S. government need not turn over a
secret surveillance court's orders or the names of phone
companies helping it collect call records, because it might
reveal methods needed to protect national security, a federal
judge decided on Monday.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland,
California, rejected the Electronic Frontier Foundation's
argument that the U.S. Department of Justice should turn over
the materials, in the wake of unauthorized disclosures last year
by a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden.
The EFF noted that the government had already declassified
hundreds of pages of other documents discussing data collection
under the U.S. Patriot Act, including some that the data privacy
advocacy group had requested. These declassifications came after
Snowden's leaks had been revealed.
Rogers, though, said disclosing orders of the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court, which handles federal requests
for surveillance warrants, could "provide a roadmap" for targets
of national security investigations to evade surveillance.
She also said the government's disclosure of "general"
information about the call record collection program did not
mitigate the "inherent risks to national security and government
investigations" of revealing the phone companies' identities.
"Official confirmation of the existence of or general
information about an intelligence program does not eliminate the
dangers to national security of compelling disclosure of the
program's details," she wrote.
The EFF had also argued that statements by people affiliated
with the government, including a former member of a technology
review panel who said "telephone companies like Sprint, Verizon,
and AT&T" were required to turn over records to the NSA,
justified the disclosures.
"We're disheartened that the court is allowing the
government to keep the information secret," EFF staff lawyer
Mark Rumold said in an interview. "It is quite likely that the
government is still using the Patriot Act to obtain information,
under different intelligence programs, in bulk."
Rogers ruled in the EFF's favor on one issue, ordering the
government to turn over a Jan. 4, 2010 memo discussing the
interaction between the Patriot Act and the disclosure of
information collected when compiling the census.
The Justice Department had no immediate comment.
Snowden's leaks have sparked a broad debate over the
government's authority to collect personal data without
violating people's privacy.
On Monday, the U.S. Office of the Director of National
Intelligence released partially blacked-out versions of 38
documents relating to a now-discontinued NSA program to collect
bulk electronic communications metadata.
The case is Electronic Frontier Foundation v. Department of
Justice, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California,
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional
reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Gregorio)