“This is the most transparent administration in history”
- President Barack Obama
It wasn't exactly like rubbing salt into the wounds of a US population that over the past month has learned it has no electronic communication privacy left, but it was close, when last night the US government's Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced that it was granting the secret FISA court - the same 11 people who decide behind closed doors whose email, phone or browser history is of national interest and thus subject to further "examination" - an extension of its telephone surveillance program. This is one of the two data surveillance efforts by the US (in conjunction with all major private telecom and internet companies) that Snowden leaked about. Why do we know this? Because the Obama administration is suddenly serious about being the most transparent ever: "The ODNI said in a statement it was disclosing the renewal as part of an effort at greater transparency following Snowden's disclosure of the telephone data collection and email surveillance programs." In short: "we will continue spying, but at least we are fully transparent about it."
A top official said earlier on Friday that intelligence officials were working to declassify information on the programs that Snowden had already partially disclosed.
Robert Litt, general counsel of ODNI, said he was optimistic the intelligence community could make "a lot of progress" in declassifying the information.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court sided on Monday with Yahoo Inc and ordered the Obama administration to declassify and publish a 2008 court decision justifying Prism, the data collection program revealed last month by Snowden.
The ruling could offer a rare glimpse into how the government has legally justified its spy agencies' data collection programs under FISA.
"One of the hurdles to declassification earlier was that the existence of the programs was classified," Litt said in response to questions after a speech at the Brookings Institution. "It's very hard to think about releasing the opinion that says a particular program is legal if you're not going to disclose what the program is. Now that the program has been declassified, we're going back and we're looking at these opinions."
Litt said intelligence officials were looking across the spectrum of its activities to see what could be declassified.
"We're trying to prioritize things that we think are of the greatest public interest," he said. "The highest priority is getting out fuller information about the programs about which partial information is already out."
The 2008 ruling mentioned by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court stemmed from Yahoo's challenge of the legality of broad, warrantless surveillance programs like Prism.
For those curious just who it is that makes the decision which US citizen (and certainly foreigner) is a worthwhile target of the Big Brother espionage apparatus, here is the full list of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges who, in secret, decide when the Fourth Amendment is merely some irrelevnat scribbles on very old parchment.
Members as of 2013:
|Judge||Judicial district||Date appointed||Term expiry|
|Reggie Walton (presiding)||District of Columbia||May 19, 2007||May 18, 2014|
|Rosemary M. Collyer||District of Columbia||March 8, 2013||March 7, 2020|
|Raymond J. Dearie||Eastern District of New York||July 2, 2012||July 1, 2019|
|Claire Eagan||Northern District of Oklahoma||February 13, 2013||May 18, 2019|
|Martin L.C. Feldman||Eastern District of Louisiana||May 19, 2010||May 18, 2017|
|Thomas Hogan||District of Columbia||May 18, 2009||May 18, 2016|
|Mary A. McLaughlin||Eastern District of Pennsylvania||May 18, 2008||May 18, 2015|
|Michael W. Mosman||District of Oregon||May 4, 2013||May 3, 2020|
|F. Dennis Saylor IV||District of Massachusetts||May 19, 2011||May 18, 2018|
|Susan Webber Wright||Eastern District of Arkansas||May 18, 2009||May 18, 2016|
|James Zagel||Northern District of Illinois||May 18, 2008||May 18, 2015|