In a significant ruling Friday, federal Judge Dennis Saylor ordered that the government review for declassifications rulings that, under the auspices of the Patriot Act, enable the mass hoarding of communications data in NSA dragnets.
The ruling, in favor of plaintiffs led by the ACLU, states that the civil liberties groups had a right to seek disclosure of the FISA court's interpretations of section 215 of the Patriot Act.
In the wake of the Guardian's unauthorized disclosure (based on Snowden's leaks) of the section 215 order that demanded Verizon hand over to the NSA the metadata of all its customers' calls, the judge ruled more such section 215 orders should be declassified. Via the Guardian:
"The unauthorized disclosure in June 2013 of a section 215 order, and government statements in response to that disclosure, have engendered considerable public interest and debate about section 215," Saylor wrote.
Further publication of the court's rulings "would contribute to an informed debate," he said. "Publication would also assure citizens of the integrity of this court's proceedings."
In his Friday ruling, Saylor did not definitively order the declassification of all the court's "opinions evaluating the meaning, scope and constitutionality of Section 215 of the Patriot Act," as the ACLU sought.
A procedural hurdle meant that he could not order the declassification of many of the documents, since the ACLU earlier sought their release under the Freedom of Information Act through a different court, in a case that is continuing.
Should the ACLU lose that case, in the southern district of New York, Saylor ruled that it can return to the Fisa court to seek declassification of those surveillance documents.