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Secret Laws: FISA: The Movie!

Rushed Debate on Federal Spying Powers, CATO Institute, six minute video posted as “FISA: The Movie!” on the Association of Research Libraries “Policy Notes” site. A nice summary of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) domestic spying “debate” and re-authorization over the holidays.

NY Times Sues Government To Reveal ‘Secret’ Patriot Act Interpretation

Newspaper sues government to reveal ‘secret’ Patriot Act interpretation, By Zack Whittaker, ZDNet (October 12, 2011).

The New York Times is suing the U.S. government for refusing to divulge how its law enforcement interprets the Patriot Act.

After a series of Freedom of Information requests were declined to reveal the classified interpretation of the Patriot Act — a description that Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado) described as “deeply disturbing” — the newspaper sought to battle it out in the courts.

Some months ago, it was found that the Patriot Act was being interpreted by government departments in a way to aid their ongoing investigations, leading to calls that there was a “classified” element to the counter-terrorism law.

The Secret Patriot Act

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) says that the government applies a broad legal interpretation of certain provisions of the “P.A.T.R.I.O.T Act” and has classified that interpretation so that it cannot be publicly assessed or challenged.

  • There’s a Secret Patriot Act, Senator Says, By Spencer Ackerman, Wired (May 25, 2011).

    Wyden says he “can’t answer” any specific questions about how the government thinks it can use the Patriot Act. That would risk revealing classified information — something Wyden considers an abuse of government secrecy. He believes the techniques themselves should stay secret, but the rationale for using their legal use under Patriot ought to be disclosed.

  • The Secret PATRIOT Act and the End of Limited Government in America, by E.D. Kain, Forbes (May 26, 2011).

    Apologists for the PATRIOT Act have claimed that the innocent have nothing to fear from the government’s broadened powers.

At isssue is the so-called “business-records provision” of the Act (Section 215) which empowers the FBI to get businesses, including libraries, to turn over records it deems relevant to a security investigation.

Sen. Wyden Decries “Secret Law” on PATRIOT Act, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (May 25th, 2011)

“We can have honest and legitimate disagreements about exactly how broad intelligence collection authorities ought to be, and members of the public do not expect to know all of the details about how those authorities are used,” Sen. Wyden said. “But I hope each Senator would agree that the law itself should not be kept secret and that the government should always be open and honest with the American people about what the law means.”

But the Senate moved toward cloture on reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act provisions and the Wyden amendment, which was co-sponsored by several Senate colleagues, was not permitted to be offered or to be voted upon.

Secret Laws

Secret Laws are laws that citizens and even Congress do not know about or are forbidden from seeing.

A recent Senate hearing examines how these “laws” become law and why they are ‘repugnant’ and ‘an abomination.’

The official page for the hearing with links to written testimony and a video of hearing: Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government, Hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, April 30, 2008.

A brief overview of the hearing by Steven Aftergood with links his and others’ to testimony: Secret Law Debated in Senate Hearing, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News, April 30, 2008.

A concise op-ed by Senator Russ Feingold about secret laws: Government in secret, By Russ Feingold, Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2008.

Secret Laws

Can you be required to comply with a government policy or law that is itself secret?

Although we are not allowed to see the law in question, at least we can see the court documents and amicus curiae briefs filed in the court case challenging this situation. See: