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A federal judge will review US 'secret court' rulings to see if they were improperly kept under wraps

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been campaigning for years to get the US government to disclose vague, secretive details of how it's using the controversial USA PATRIOT Act, a sweeping package of surveillance laws first passed in 2001. Last year's waterfall of leaks brought to light many of those details against the government's will, but many specifics remain tightly under wraps — despite the public outcry that has swelled in the months since and concerted efforts from public interest groups, backed by FOIA requests.

There's still a long fight ahead

A new development in the EFF's lawsuit against the Department of Justice gives new hope, though: the federal judge overseeing the case has asked for an in camera (private) review of secret FISA court opinions that have been responsible for authorizing some of the NSA's most controversial surveillance programs in order to determine whether they were improperly withheld in FOIA requests.

Notably, the judge has specifically cited "the strength of the public's interest" in the documents in question in her decision to review them, a rare moment of federal concern for the will of the public in a controversy that has historically shown very little. It's still no guarantee that the FISA decisions will be turned over — but for the EFF, they live to fight another day.