The United States is a country made up of laws, and laws that are accessible and readable by every citizen…until recently, where the government has decided to take the unusual steps of having classified interpretations of unclassified laws. So what exactly is inside the Justice Department’s secret cyber security memo detailing its interpretation of certain federal statutes?
“I remain very concerned that a secret Justice Department opinion that is of clear relevance to this debate continues to be withheld from the public,” Wyden said in his written dissent against CISA, which cleared the Senate Intelligence Committee 14-1 in March. “This opinion, which interprets common commercial service agreements, is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law, and I believe it will be difficult for Congress to have a fully informed debate on cybersecurity legislation if it does not understand how these agreements have been interpreted by the Executive Branch.”
Last month, when McConnell tried and failed to pass CISA by attaching it to a defense authorization bill—a procedural trick that limited amendments and prompted a Democratic backlash, Wyden urged his colleagues to read the memo in question. Any senator that voted for the bill, he said, “is voting without a full understanding of the relevant legal landscape.”
The Justice Department would not comment on the contents of the opinion other than to say that it is “aware of the senator’s concerns and [has] provided a response.” That response is classified, Wyden’s office confirmed, adding that DOJ officials indicated they had no plans to release the legal memo publicly.
Ron Wyden is the only Senator who seems to truly get it when it comes to privacy and security issues. Without his aggressive push to get the Obama Administration to release more information about these secretive memos, the public would be in a much darker spot than it is today.