A judge from the United States' Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court directed the government to review for possible public release the body's classified opinions on the National Security Agency's practice of collecting logs of citizens' phone calls.
Judge Dennis Saylor issued the opinion in a response to a motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, saying such a move would add to "an informed debate" about privacy and might even improve the reputation of the FISC on which he sits.
The ruling was the latest development to show the wide extent of the impact of the disclosures by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, on the secrecy that has surrounded both the agency and the court. It came a day after the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said in a speech that Snowden's leak of secret documents had set off a "needed" debate.
Saylor, of Boston, one of the 11 federal judges who take turns sitting on the FISA court, said in his ruling that the publication in June of a court order leaked by Snowden regarding the phone logs had prompted the government to release a series of related documents and "engendered considerable public interest and debate".
Among the documents voluntarily made public by the Obama administration since then are two FISA court rulings from 2009 and 2011 that were highly critical of the NSA, which the judges said had not only violated the agency's own rules and the law, but had repeatedly misled them.
Those disclosures ran counter to a longstanding assertion by the court's critics that it acts as a rubber stamp for the NSA and the FBI, since statistics show that it has rarely turned down a request for a government eavesdropping warrant.