Making Tyranny ‘Legal’
by Peter Casey
July 11, 2013
The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws. ~ Tacitus
Since the Guardian’s publication of the “telephone metadata” order, courtesy of Edward Snowden, the law professoriate et al. have been speculating about a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s “secret” opinion that would explain the seemingly inexplicable – how the National Security Agency legally can obtain in real time a record of every single telephone call made to, from and within the United States of America?
Days after the June 5 story, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion asking the Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) court to unseal the secret “legal interpretations” underlying the order. The ACLU argued that publication of the court’s interpretation of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the “business records” statute cited by the order for its authority, “would benefit the public interest immensely” and permit it “to more fully understand the order’s meaning and to contribute to the ongoing debate.”
So far, the secret opinion has remained secret – although the Washington Post has hinted that it has seen an opinion, issued on May 24, 2006, in which “the [FISA] court ruled it would define the relevant business records as the entirety of a telephone company’s call database.” The two-page order itself made that obvious.
The ACLU’s motion tweaks the FISA court a bit. “Secret legal opinions” are secret for a reason. Their arguments would make Roy Cohn blush. The President or other executive branch official who asks for a secret legal opinion is not looking for honest legal guidance. He wants justification for a predetermined course of action – and to provide legal cover in the remote chance he’s indicted and wants to argue as an excuse that he “relied on advice of counsel.”