ACLU Wins Battle for Release of Federal Government’s Surveillance Documents

Government Forced to Release Docs on Spying Program

By William Fisher|

Last week’s release of 900 pages of U.S. government documents dealing with the implementation of the nation’s primary surveillance law suggests that the government has been systematically violating the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. How many citizens is unclear, since the documents were extensively redacted.

The previously secret internal documents were obtained through a court battle by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The government declined to disclose the number of citizens who had their telephone calls, e-mail, or other communications intercepted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008. They also declined to discuss any specific abuses, the ACLU said.

The 900 documents were delivered in keeping with a previously agreed schedule. Alex Abdo, a senior attorney with the ACLU, told IPS, “For two years now, the government has had the authority to engage in the dragnet and unconstitutional surveillance of Americans’ communications with little to no oversight of its actual surveillance decisions.”

“This week’s disclosures confirm that the government repeatedly abused even the minimal, and unconstitutional, limits set out in this new surveillance authority,” he added. “Although we know that abuses occurred, the government has withheld all critical details about them.”

The lawsuit seeks to enforce a November 2009 Freedom of Information Act request for records related to the government’s interpretation and implementation of the FAA, including reports and assessments mandated by the law concerning how the FAA is being used, how many citizens are affected and what safeguards are in place to prevent abuse of privacy rights.

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