WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is declassifying portions of some secret court orders concerning the government's authority to seize records under the Patriot Act.
The department revealed its decision to declassify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions in a filing with the federal court in the Northern District of California Wednesday. The government says it will provide hundreds of pages of documents to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil liberties group that had filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.
The release of the records is in response to an order issued by a federal judge in California. In its filing, the Justice Department said it was "broadly construing" that order and is declassifying a larger set of documents than the ruling required.
The Justice Department said it would provide the document to the foundation by Tuesday.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is seeking documents about the government's interpretation and use of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to seize a wide range of documents. That section requires the government to show that there are "reasonable grounds to believe" that the records are relevant to an investigation intended to "protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."
David Sobel, the foundation's senior counsel, said it was "unfortunate" that it took his group's lawsuit to make the material public.
"Significant decisions of the FISA Court should be largely unclassified," he said. "The release of this material is overdue."