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Secret US surveillance court says some of its rulings could be made public

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been fighting to get its hands on a secret court ruling that would reveal that very same court believes the NSA's surveillance tactics are unconstitutional, and it just won a small but important battle in its efforts. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a US federal court that oversees surveillance requests, today granted a motion stating that it won't block the EFF's motion to reveal the potentially controversial ruling.

Back in August of 2012, the EFF filed a lawsuit that sought disclosure of "collection activities" under FISA section 702 — which is believed to be the basis of the PRISM surveillance program. Specifically, the EFF was looking for a FISC opinion that found the NSA's surveillance efforts under section 702 to be unconstitutional. In the wake of the NSA's surveillance activities coming to light, the EFF believes that its request (which it filed under the Freedom of Information Act) "took on new importance" — but the Department of Justice blocked its release in a confusing, circular argument. It essentially argued that the FISC's rules functioned as a seal that prevented the executive branch of the government from releasing these rulings, but the FISC disagreed with that judgement.

Now, according to The New York Times, the FISC has ruled that it saw no reason to block the release of the documents requested by the EFF — but that ruling doesn't mean those documents will be immediately released. A federal court in Washington DC will make the ultimate determination on whether or not the request should be granted. Essentially, it means that the FISC won't stand in the way of another court granting a freedom of information act request —such as the one that will now decide on the EFF's request. It's a complicated bit of legal wrangling, and the EFF isn't getting its hopes up just yet that its request will be granted. "The victory today was a modest one," the EFF wrote in a blog post. "The Court didn't order disclosure of its opinion; it just made clear, as EFF had argued, that the FISC's own rules don't serve as an obstacle to disclosure of the opinion."