By Evan Perez
A new batch of secret court orders that govern the National Security Agency's surveillance programs soon could be public following major legal victories on Friday by transparency advocates.
Yahoo, which lost a battle with the government in 2008 over the legality of an NSA foreign surveillance program, will soon get its wish to have the public see the court rulings in that fight.
The Justice Department, in a filing Friday, said it now believes it can declassify much of the information in the court rulings "making possible the publication of much of the court's opinion and order."
The filing doesn't identify Yahoo by name – the government has previously claimed even the name of the company involved was secret – but people familiar with the matter and other court documents confirm it is Yahoo.
It's unclear when the documents will be made public.
The American Civil Liberties Union won a separate fight seeking to declassify secret court opinions that oversee the NSA's collection of so-called data on nearly every U.S. telephone user.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in an opinion released Friday ordered the government to review for release a set of court opinions governing the program, governed by Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
The government has released other Section 215 documents in recent months, weakening the government's case for secrecy, the court said.
At issue in in the Yahoo case is a separate program known as Prism, under which the NSA collects foreign email and other Internet data as authorized by Patriot Act's Section 702.
Yahoo had challenged government demands to provide information under the program, citing incidental collection of data on U.S. residents, but the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered the company to comply with government surveillance requests.
The existence of Prism and the Section 215 programs became known after the publication of documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who remains in Russia to evade U.S. criminal charges.
The ACLU has a separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in federal court in New York seeking documents on the 215 program, which prompted the government earlier this week to release documents showing how the NSA overstepped the bounds of its collection authority and misled the court about it.
Alex Abdo, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, called the FISC order a rebuke of the NSA's secrecy.
"We are pleased that the surveillance court has recognized the importance of transparency to the ongoing public debate about the NSA's spying," he said.
An attorney for Yahoo didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Justice Department said it wouldn't comment on either court matters.
Yahoo is part of another lawsuit against the government, along with Google, Microsoft and Facebook.
The companies are seeking to publish statistics every six months showing how many requests each company receives compelling them to provide providing content and metadata – information showing the from, to, and other basic data in communications – of their customers.
The companies say their businesses are being harmed because the government's secrecy has led to erroneous stories about their cooperation with surveillance orders.