As an amicus curiae, or a friend of the court, Burton, who may be best known for representing Monica Lewinsky, will counsel the court on a case that “presents a novel or significant interpretation of the law.” Until Congress passed intelligence reform legislation in early summer, the court, which must approve U.S. government surveillance, investigation and physical search activities, heard arguments only from government authorities.
Privacy advocates have long taken issue with the FISC secret operations and welcomed reform brought about after Congress gave an 11th hour go-ahead to the USA Freedom Act in June. While the reforms will put an end on November 29 to the National Security Agency's bulk collection of metadata records revealed by Edward Snowden and place limits on how long government can retain such records, the government has petitioned the court to “retain and use [the data] for certain technical and litigation-related purposes.”
Advising the court on that issue will be Burton's first task.
While privacy organizations are likely to view Burton's appointment as a first small step toward mitigating the secrecy of FISC's machinations, some appear to be adopting a more cautious posture.
“Without an institutional base and with all the secrecy obligations at FISA there is a very serious risk of ‘capture,'” Jeramie Scott, national security counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), wrote, according to the Intercept, which first reported on the FISC filing. “He will need to be extremely independent to safeguard all of the interests that role requires.”