DOJ ready to publish phone surveillance approval

The Department of Justice has reversed course and said it is willing to declassify parts of a court opinion permitting phone surveillance.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinion — regarding Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the government cites when justifying its collection of information about virtually all American phone calls — is at the center of a case being brought by the ACLU, which wants the opinion to be public.

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Initially the DOJ told the court that the opinion could not be published, even with redactions.

“However, upon further review and as a discretionary matter, the Government has now determined that it does not object” to the publication of a redacted version of the opinion, the DOJ told the court in a document filed earlier this month but made public Monday.

The DOJ defended its earlier position, saying that the publication of the opinion could harm an ongoing counterterrorism investigation.

“The Opinion relates to an application for records relevant to an ongoing investigation of a particular individual who is the subject of a Federal Bureau of Investigation counterterrorism investigation,” the DOJ wrote in the filing made public Monday.

The opinion “discusses in detail the activities of the subject and certain of the subject’s associates,” the filing said.

Publishing the opinion “could tip off the subject and/or the subject’s associates, which would impair the ongoing counterterrorism investigation in various ways,” the DOJ said.

But, if directed to by the surveillance court, the government is now willing to declassify a redacted version of the opinion for publishing, the filing said.