Snowden Leak Prompted “Considerable Public Interest,” Says FISA Court

09.13.13 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The leak by Edward Snowden of a classified order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) helped to arouse significant public interest, said the Court itself in an opinion issued today. Further disclosures are now justified, the Court indicated.

“The unauthorized disclosure in June 2013 of a Section 215 order, and government statements in response to that disclosure, have engendered considerable public interest and debate about Section 215,” wrote FISC Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV in an opinion today regarding an ACLU motion for release of prior Court opinions concerning Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

Judge Saylor directed that any opinions not already subject to litigation under the Freedom of Information Act should now be reviewed for declassification.

“[Further] Publication of FISC opinions relating to this provision would contribute to an informed debate,” Judge Saylor added. “Publication would also assure citizens of the integrity of this Court’s proceedings.”

Yesterday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also acknowledged that the leaks, while damaging, had triggered an important debate.

“I think it’s clear that some of the conversations this has generated, some of the debate, actually needed to happen,” DNI Clapper said. “If there’s a good side to this, maybe that’s it.” (“Clapper: Snowden case brings healthy debate; more disclosures to come” by Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times, September 12.)

But if the unauthorized disclosure of a FISA Court order generated debate that “needed to happen,” that means that the original classification of the order had precluded a necessary public debate. If so, it follows that a thorough reconsideration of classification policy and practice is due.