Supreme Court called into secrecy fight

The Supreme Court is being called to weigh in on a yearslong Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on Tuesday asked the high court to decide whether the Obama administration should hand over a secret memo allowing the FBI to obtain phone records without any judicial process.


"The public has a fundamental right to know how the federal government is interpreting surveillance and privacy laws," EFF senior counsel David Sobel said in a statement.

"If the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel has interpreted away federal privacy protections in secret, the public absolutely needs access to that analysis. There is no way for the public to intelligently advocate for reforms when we're intentionally kept in the dark," he added.

The disputed memo first came to light in a 2010 report from the department’s inspector general. After the government denied a request to release the memo under the Freedom of Information Act, the EFF sued in 2011.

So far, the case has been unsuccessful, but the online rights group is hoping the Supreme Court will end that streak. 

"It can't be left to the executive branch's discretion to release these critically important opinions,” EFF attorney Mark Rumold said in a statement. “We hope the Supreme Court will take the opportunity to clarify that this type of secret law has no place in a democratic society."

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel provides legal authority for many of the government’s surveillance and judicial operations. It has previously been the target of activists’ ire over legal decisions approving so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding, which the Obama administration has since called a form of torture, as well as permitting targeted killings of Americans abroad.