On Monday the Freedom of the Press Foundation released Department of Justice documents detailing the procedure for monitoring journalists using the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The documents were recently obtained via Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Freedom of the Press Foundation and Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
The documents reveal that the DOJ is not required to satisfy “a multi-part test” designed to prove they have exhausted all options before targeting a journalist with surveillance, as is the case for obtaining traditional subpoenas, court orders, and warrants against journalists. Instead, Trevor Trimm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation notes, the DOJ only must follow less strict court orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. “FISA court orders are also inherently secret, and targets are almost never informed that they exist,” Trimm writes in a press release regarding the documents.
The secret courts were originally created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) in response to reports produced by the Church Committee in 1975. The Senate committee was tasked with investigating the foreign and domestic surveillance operations by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during the 1970s. The Church Committee also released detailed reports on the governments Counter Intelligence Programs (COINTELPRO) that were used against activists and influential voices of opposition during the 1950s and ’60s.
“While civil liberties advocates have long suspected secret FISA court orders may be used (and abused) to conduct surveillance on journalists, the government—to our knowledge—has never acknowledged they have ever even contemplated doing so before the release of these documents today,” writes Trimm.
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