Judge Agrees Public Has Access Right To Federal Surveillance Requests


A federal judge in Texas ruled that the public generally has a right to see secret government requests for electronic surveillance in ordinary criminal cases. However, she said that a batch of such documents cannot be released now because the relevant cases are ongoing, denying a request by the Wall Street Journal. After a series of motions from Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co., U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that Dow Jones has a legal right to see government applications for surveillance, an idea the U.S. Justice Department had fought. But she agreed with DOJ that the requested documents shouldn't be disclosed yet because the 14 applications, dating from 2010 to 2013, all relate to continuing cases.

The government made some of its arguments to the judge in private last year. The Justice Department argued in June that the public would have no right to any information about the applications, including basic descriptions, even if the cases were closed. Ramos rejected that argument. She also ordered the government to update her every six months on the status of the investigations and whether they remained open. “We're pleased that the court agreed that the public has a broad right to access government surveillance requests, and we look forward to the court continuing to oversee this process,” a spokeswoman for Dow Jones said.

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