Compliance Management, Government Regulations, Privacy

ACLU suit says ‘secret legal document’ may address gov’t surveillance

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a suit last week to obtain a “secret legal document” that might address the government's authority to access data and which has been suppressed by the government since the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) penned it in 2003.

Weary of getting the run-around from the Obama administration, which claims it doesn't rely on the opinion expressed in the OLC decision, the privacy experts expressed concern that the decision, which was written when the OLC was favoring broad executive power, supports warrantless surveillance.

“At the time, the OLC was writing opinions that articulated a very broad executive power,” a report in The Hill quoted ACLU attorney Eliza Sweren-Becker as saying. “So without knowing more about the opinion itself, it's possible that this particular OLC opinion also takes that kind of expansive approach to executive power.”

The document has been on the radar of privacy advocates and concerned lawmakers for more than a decade, with no real progress made in obtaining a copy. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has made privacy a centerpiece of his tenure in the Senate and has been outspoken on surveillance, mentioned his failed attempts to get a copy of the document in an early 2013 letter to CIA Director John O. Brennan, then assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. Wyden said in one request to then Attorney General Eric Holder he had “noted that the opinion regarding commercial service agreements has direct relevance to ongoing congressional debates regarding cybersecurity legislation.”

The ACLU filed suit over the document, which The Hill said is believed to relate, at least in part, to commercial service agreements that exist likely between tech and telecom companies and customers, after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was denied.

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