In recent years, the National Security Agency has relied on secret interpretations of the law to justify its actions, as noted in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and a letter that 26 U.S. senators wrote complaining that "the 'business records' provision of the Patriot Act has been secretly reinterpreted." NSA defenders are fond of saying that its activities are legitimized and overseen by all three branches of government. This elides the distinction between Congress as a body and small subcommittees with access to classified information: A subcommittee can be quietly co-opted in a way that Congress cannot.
The notion of a secret body of law is incompatible with the American system of government. Understanding why is as easy as consulting the Federalist Papers, the most thorough explanation the Framers gave us of their republican design and its logic.
The House of Representatives is meant to be responsive to ever-changing popular opinion in the country's many congressional districts. "As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people," James Madison wrote in Federalist 52. "Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured."