Court Orders Justice Department to Release NSA Surveillance Documents in EPIC LawsuitElectronic Privacy Information Center
Thur Feb 16, 2006
In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit
(pdf) filed by EPIC, a federal judge has ordered
(pdf) the Department of Justice to process and release documents related to the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance program by March 8. It is the first court opinion addressing the controversial domestic spying operation. "President Bush has invited meaningful debate about the warrantless surveillance program," U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy wrote. "That can only occur if DOJ processes [EPIC's] FOIA requests in a timely fashion and releases the information sought." For more information, see ::
EPIC's Domestic Surveillance FOIA
In December 2005, the New York Times reported that President Bush secretly issued an executive order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless surveillance of international telephone and Internet communications on American soil. President Bush acknowledged the existence of the NSA surveillance program and vowed that its activities would continue.
EPIC submitted FOIA requests to the NSA and four Department of Justice components just hours after the existence of the warrantless surveillance program was first reported. Noting the extraordinary public interest in the program — and its potential illegality — EPIC asked the agencies to expedite the processing of the requests.
The DOJ agreed that the requests warranted priority treatment, but has now failed to comply with the FOIA's usual time limit of twenty working days. In January 2006, EPIC filed a lawsuit (pdf) against the DOJ to compel the immediate disclosure of information concerning the NSA surveillance program, which will facilitate the current and ongoing public debate on the propriety of warrantless surveillance. EPIC has asked (pdf) the federal district court in Washington to issue a preliminary injunction requiring the release of relevant documents within 20 days. EPIC's case has been consolidated with a lawsuit (pdf) filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and National Security Archive concerning the same documents.
On February 16, 2006, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy ordered (pdf) the DOJ to process and release documents concerning the NSA program within 20 days. Once the DOJ completes its processing of the material, any decision to withhold the requested documents will be subject to judicial review, and Judge Kennedy will have the ability to order "in camera" production of the material and make an independent determination concerning public disclosure.
The NSA has released two internal messages (pdf) in response to EPIC's request, but is withholding all other responsive material. EPIC filed suit (pdf) against the NSA in February 2006, asking a federal court to compel the release of the withheld documents.