MFIA Clinic Wins Key Victory for Public Access to FISC Court


On November 9, 2017, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ruled that Yale’s Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic (MFIA) and the ACLU may press forward in their effort to vindicate the public’s First Amendment right of access to the court’s secret decisions authorizing some of the government’s most controversial mass surveillance activities. Sitting en banc for the first time in its history, the FISC reversed a January 2017 decision from a single FISC judge that had dismissed the challenge for lack of standing.

MFIA and the ACLU filed the case in 2013 immediately after Edward Snowden revealed that the FISC had authorized widespread surveillance of Americans. The Knight First Amendment Institute is co-counsel on the case.  

“This ruling is a win for transparency against the government’s efforts to keep its mass surveillance regime hidden from public scrutiny,” said ACLU attorney Brett Max Kaufman. “Secret law is incompatible with democracy, and uncovering classified court rulings is key to rolling back government spy programs that infringe on Americans’ privacy rights.”

“Nearly forty years ago, the Supreme Court recognized that secret court proceedings of any stripe are profoundly inimical to our judicial system and our democratic government,” said David Schulz '78, co-director of the Yale MFIA Clinic. “Yet over the past decade we have seen a march towards greater secrecy in court proceedings, particularly when they involve issues of national security. Today’s ruling ensures that, at a minimum, the Yale Clinic and its allies can continue to combat this trend that shrouds in secrecy government actions that undermine our civil liberties.”

MFIA is a law student clinic dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression by providing pro bono legal services, pursuing impact litigation and developing policy initiatives.

More information on the case is here: