US National Security Agency

Court calls on Obama administration to declassify metadata ruling

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

The secret surveillance court that approved the US government's collection of millions of Americans' telephone and e-mail records has called for the Obama administration to declassify and release as much as it can of one of the court's early legal decisions sanctioning that collection.

The chief of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered the Justice Department to begin a review to see how much it can reasonably declassify from a 2008 opinion - a ruling in which the court allegedly ordered Yahoo to turn over records of customers' online communications.

In his order on Monday, Judge Reggie Walton also instructed the department to undergo the same declassification process for the arguments that Yahoo and the US government made in the case.

He said he would then release the declassified portions of the court's justification - and the legal arguments - to the public.

Walton's decision comes when the secret court is bristling at suggestions that it effectively rubber-stamped a government surveillance effort that swept up the records of tens of millions of Americans and infringed on privacy rights.

That information, known as metadata, is stored and records who was called and for how long, and who was e-mailed and how often.

The Obama administration ended the collection of bulk data on the e-mails and Internet usage of Americans in 2011 because the programme was deemed unnecessary after an interagency review, according to administration officials. It is not known if e-mail collection continues in some other form. The collection of phone data continues.

Yahoo has pushed to unseal arguments and other documents in the case, saying the material will prove that the Silicon Valley giant fought against sharing its customers' information and insisted that doing so was unconstitutional.