Never mind: US says it doesn’t need to redact transcript of public court hearing after all

Privacy Law

Never mind: US says it doesn’t need to redact transcript of public court hearing after all

Aug 7, 2014, 10:45 am CDT

A challenge to “dragnet surveillance” by the National Security Agency became a battle over transparency after the United States secretly sought an advance look at a transcript of a public hearing so it could remove any classified material.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the suit on behalf of AT&T customers, says it can reveal the details as a result of an order on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White.

The June 6 court hearing “was held in a crowded, open courtroom including TV and written press,” the EFF writes at its Deeplinks blog. A week later, the government sent an ex parte letter to White asking to review the transcript of the hearing before its release because a government lawyer had inadvertently made a statement believed to be classified during the hearing. The government asked that the request be sealed from the public, the plaintiffs and their lawyers.

White issued an order under seal alerting EFF to the government request and giving it a chance to respond. EFF asserted the First Amendment required release of the full transcript and all the court documents related to the dispute. White allowed the government an advance look at the transcript and said the government would have to include declarations as to the classified nature of any information it sought to redact.

On July 28, the government said there was no inadvertent disclosure of classified material after all, according to the EFF account.

EFF writes that the government’s bid to change history by altering a transcript of a public hearing is “unprecedented. We could find no example of where a court had granted such a remedy or even where such a request had been made. This was another example of the government’s attempt to shroud in secrecy both its own actions, as well as the challenges to those actions.”

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