EFF asks Supreme Court to rule on secret surveillance memo

The digital rights group wants to see a DOJ memo that allows the FBI to collect phone records

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in its effort to obtain a copy of a secret government memo authorizing the FBI to collect phone records.

The EFF, a digital rights group, on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to decide whether a January 2010 U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel [OLC] opinion, apparently allowing the FBI to informally collect phone records from telecom carriers without further legal authority, should be made public.

The OLC opinion "establishes the scope of the executive branch's authority to obtain private communications records without legal process or a qualifying emergency, despite apparent statutory prohibitions to the contrary," EFF's lawyers wrote in their request to the Supreme Court.

The FBI's informal telephone records requests, revealed in a 2010 report by the DOJ's Office of Inspector General, is separate from the U.S. National Security Agency's controversial telephone records collection program revealed in leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The OLC opinion appears to rely on legal authority that is different than that used by the NSA program, which cites the Patriot Act, said Mark Rumold, an EFF staff attorney."In fact, we can't say with 100 percent certainty what statute the [FBI] collection authority is based on, because they've kept that secret," he said by email.

A DOJ spokesman declined to comment on the EFF's Supreme Court request.

In addition to the FBI, the CIA may be using the OLC memo to collect telephone records, based on news reports from late 2013, Rumold said.

In May 2011, the EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the DOJ to obtain the memo, but the agency has resisted the request. The DOJ has prevailed in district court and on appeal.

EFF's lawyers argue the public should have access to important OLC memos.

"The public has an unquestionable interest in access to OLC's interpretations of law," they wrote in their Supreme Court request. "OLC opinions often represent the final word on the legality of executive branch action and provide powerful shields of legal immunity to executive officials relying in good faith on their conclusions."

The DOJ has interpreted court rulings in the case "to authorize a near-categorical shield of privilege for these important documents," they added.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentprivacylegalU.S. Department of JusticeElectronic Frontier FoundationCivil lawsuitsU.S. Supreme CourtU.S. National Security AgencyMark RumoldU.S. FBI

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?