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Secret Court Admits It Can't Verify When Government Breaks Surveillance Rules

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"The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court," U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said in a written statement to the newspaper. "The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders."

The statement from Walton was prompted by the secret internal government records revealed in Gellman's article. As the Post pointed out, the Obama administration and intelligence officials have repeatedly pointed to the surveillance court, which oversees some NSA operations, as a key part of the oversight of the government's surveillance efforts.

Under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the government is required to immediately notify the court if it believes court orders have been violated. But Gellmen's article on Friday pointed to at least one instance in which the court did not learn of a new collection method used by the agency until it had been in use for a number of months. After learning of the new method, the court deemed it unconstitutional.

Late last month, Walton sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, laying out some details about the operations of the top secret court, including the way the court, its staff, and the government interact, along with how applications for court orders are handled.

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Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website?s front page. He has previously written for The Daily,, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at