The U.S. Justice Department estimated it will complete a court-ordered declassification review related to the National Security Agency’s 2008 bulk collection requests of Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO:US) by Sept. 12, according to a court filing.
The Justice Department’s response came in a filing yesterday with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court that ordered the department to conduct the review earlier this month.
“In the interest of providing a more complete picture of the litigation in this matter, the government also proposes to undertake a declassification review of certain additional materials in this litigation,” John P. Carlin, the acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s national security division, said in the filing.
The U.S. government is reviewing its classified data collection programs after two were disclosed to media organizations by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. They include bulk collection of phone records from U.S. citizens, as well as an Internet surveillance program, known as Prism, that targets foreign citizens outside the U.S. suspected of being connected to terrorism.
The disclosures have increased scrutiny from lawmakers and civil liberties groups about the scope of government surveillance by the NSA. They have also brought new requests from technology companies including Facebook Inc. (FB:US), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT:US), and Google Inc. (GOOG:US) for more leeway in making public the data requests made by the government.
Yahoo, in a June 14 request to the intelligence court, requested the government release the details of an April 2008 opinion related to the data collection programs. A “more fulsome release of this decision is now warranted” in light of the government’s decision to declassify certain elements of its surveillance programs, as well as “the current controversy surrounding the use of directives issued” under the statute that allows for the collection of Internet data, known as Section 702, the company said in the filing.
The Justice Department didn’t say it would release the review of the opinion by Sept. 12, only that it estimated it would be completed by that time. The department said it would conduct and complete a similar reviews of the briefs and materials cited in the opinion by Sept. 27. It cited 14 briefs and materials listed in the opinion in the filing.
Andrew Ames, the Justice Department’s national security division spokesman, declined to comment beyond the filing.
Reviews of other related materials will be completed on “a rolling basis thereafter,” according to the filing.
Reggie B. Walton, a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, said in his July 15 order that the court “anticipates publishing that memorandum opinion in a form that redacts any properly classified information” upon completion of the review.
The Justice Department said it faced several potential hurdles to the specific declassification of the Yahoo order, including the need to coordinate with the review of court opinions in the case, the “overarching Executive Branch declassification effort,” as well as multiple Freedom of Information Act cases involving similar issues.
“The declassification decisions being made in the instant case are intertwined with these other declassification reviews,” the Justice Department said.
Walton, in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said Yahoo is the only nongovernmental party that has ever sought to “substantively contest” a directive from the government. The company refused to comply with a government directive in 2007, which led to the decision by the foreign intelligence court in 2008, Walton said in letter dated yesterday.
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