Secret Surveillance Court Bends Rules of Language and Law

The secret court which authorizes the phone and internet surveillance of millions of individuals worldwide is bending the rules of language and law—according to a series of recent reports—as the 11 hand-picked judges ascend to “ultimate arbiter” on all surveillance issues shaping intelligence practices “for years to come.”

In a Wall Street Journal piece published Monday, reporters Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Siobhan Gorman detail how the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, has legally manipulated the definition of the word “relevant” to include “an entire database of records on millions of people,” recently revealed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

According to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the government is permitted to seek secret court orders for the handing over of “any tangible thing” including records, “relevant to an authorized investigation” regarding a foreign-intelligence or terrorism investigation.

“The history of the word ‘relevant’ is key to understanding that passage,” write Valentino-DeVries and Gorman. They explain: