By Julian Hattem - 08/08/14 03:49 PM EDT
The government needs to release a partially declassified opinion from the federal court overseeing surveillance activities about its bulk collection of phone records, the court said.
In a decision handed down on Friday, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered the release of the Feb. 19, 2013, opinion that explains how a portion of the Patriot Act allows the National Security Agency to collect people’s phone records by Aug. 29. Section 215 of that law allows the agency to collect “metadata” — or information about which numbers people call, how often and how long the calls last but not the actual content of people’s conversations — in order to track and stop terrorists.
The order comes in response to a petition form the American Civil Liberties Union and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic.
Reform to Section 215 of the Patriot Act is currently under debate in Congress, where a bill from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would end the NSA’s bulk collection of the phone records and require the government obtain a court order to collect data from private phone companies.
Leahy unveiled a new compromise version of his bill last month, before lawmakers left town for the month-long August recess. The bill faces an uncertain future, however, with time dwindling before the end of the year and midterm elections looming in November.