US promises to declassify more information on surveillance programs

US intelligence officials are working to declassify information on programs that have been partially disclosed, a senior official said on Friday. 

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    Robert Litt, general counsel in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, testifies during a House Judiciary Committee meeting.
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US intelligence officials are working to declassify information on programs that have been partially disclosed, a senior official said on Friday, referring to telephone and internet surveillance programs leaked by former security contractor Edward Snowden.

Robert Litt, general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said he was optimistic that the intelligence community could make "a lot of progress" in declassifying the information.

US officials faced a public uproar after Snowden began leaking classified information about telephone and email collection programs. Intelligence officials have been on a push to justify the programs as legal under the law, particularly the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires a secret court to approve the programs.

Recommended: Five ways to protect yourself from government surveillance

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Monday sided with Yahoo Inc and ordered the Obama administration to declassify and publish a 2008 court decision justifying Prism, the data collection program revealed last month by Snowden.

The ruling could offer a rare glimpse into how the government has legally justified its spy agencies' data collection programs under FISA.

"One of the hurdles to declassification earlier was that the existence of the programs was classified," Litt said in response to questions following a speech at the Brookings Institute. "It's very hard to think about releasing the opinion that says a particular program is legal if you're not going to disclose what the program is. Now that the program has been declassified we're going back and we're looking at these opinions."

Litt said intelligence officials were looking across the entire spectrum of its activities to see what could be declassified.

"We're trying to prioritize things that we think are of the greatest public interest," he said. "The highest priority is getting out fuller information about the programs about which partial information is already out."

The 2008 ruling mentioned by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court stemmed from Yahoo's challenge of the legality of broad, warrantless surveillance programs like Prism.

A number of major US Internet companies, including Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, have asked the government for permission to disclose the number of national security-related user data requests they receive.

Snowden, who faces espionage charges for releasing the classified information, has been holed up at a Moscow airport for three weeks trying to avoid prosecution. This week he sought temporary asylum in Russia.

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