The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second most powerful federal court, ruled Friday that the Obama administration could keep secret a Justice Department legal memorandum that approved the handover of telephone company consumer data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel upheld the decision of a US district court judge, who had rebuffed a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), a privacy and consumer rights group.
The case concerns a spying program distinct from the dragnet collection of telephone metadata by the National Security Agency, which was exposed last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. On Friday, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court renewed the authority of the NSA and other intelligence agencies to continue the collection of the telephone records of virtually every American and millions of people internationally for three more months. The extension, routinely granted by the FISA Court, was announced in a press release issued by the Office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
The DC Circuit Court ruling handed down Friday relates to the FBI practice of ordering telecommunications companies to produce the phone records of specific individuals, without a judicial warrant.
The EFF was seeking release of a classified memorandum signed by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) on January 8, 2010. The memo's existence was revealed in a subsequent report by the Justice Department's inspector general, which also revealed its conclusion that telephone companies could provide consumer information to the FBI and other government agencies "without legal process or a qualifying emergency."