Senators Introduce Bill To End Secret Law That Enabled NSA Surveillance

from the good-for-them dept

A bipartisan group of eight Senators have now introduced a bill to end the secret interpretation of the law which enabled the NSA, via the rubber-stamping FISA Court, to claim that the FISA Amendments Act enabled them to sweep up basically all phone call data on everyone.

The measure, coming amid daily revelations about the extent to which the National Security Agency is monitoring communications by Americans, would require the Attorney General to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions. The senators say the move would allow Americans to know how broad of a legal authority the government is claiming to spy on Americans under the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

“Americans deserve to know how much information about their private communications the government believes it’s allowed to take under the law,” explains Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat who has been an outspoken advocate for congressional oversight of surveillance programs. “There is plenty of room to have this debate without compromising our surveillance sources or methods or tipping our hand to our enemies. We can’t have a serious debate about how much surveillance of Americans’s communications should be permitted without ending secret law.”

The bill will be put forth by Merkley, but co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy, Dean Heller, Mark Begich, Al Franken, Jon Tester and Ron Wyden. Leahy, being the chair of the Judiciary Committee, is important, suggesting that this bill isn’t automatically dead in the water. During the FISA Amendments Act fight at the end of 2012, Leahy was one of only a few Senators (along with Merkley and Wyden) who pushed back on just doing a straight reauthorization. In fact, it sounds like this bill will be similar to the one that Merkley pushed as an amendment to the renewal of the FISA Amendments Act last year, which got shot down — but did score 37 votes in the Senate. Perhaps with Leahy’s support, and all the news going on, it can get a few more votes.

And, in case you’re wondering, yes, Congress can order the executive branch to declassify anything it wants, though obviously it needs to pass the law (and get past any potential veto). Declassifying how the FISC has interpreted the law should not be controversial. As we’ve been pointing out for years, under no circumstances would it make sense to claim that the official interpretation of what’s legal and illegal should be classified. Yes, certain techniques or methods might need to remain classified, but the law must be public. Hopefully, others in Congress will finally recognize that basic fact.

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Comments on “Senators Introduce Bill To End Secret Law That Enabled NSA Surveillance”

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42 Comments
out_of_the_blue says:

Mike is really masnicking this NSA bit.

Probably trying to make up for losses during the Deadly Dull Prenda Era. — By re-writing what everyone else has already covered, and adding some “hopefully” mush in the last paragraph. — And yet for some reason, the fanboys see him as a visionary. What dullards they must be.

Anonymous Coward says:

More milk! More milk! More milk!
More milk! More milk! More milk!
More milk! More milk! More milk!
More milk! More milk! More milk!
More milk! More milk! More milk!

Publish more than any other human on earth! Yeah! Techdirt!

Just don’t ask the wizard behind the curtain any questions. He doesn’t do questions.

Anonymous Coward says:

We need public hearings, and we need them NOW

Forty years ago, Congress spent a long, hot summer with the Watergate hearings — because it needed to. It was faced with a government gone out-of-control, and the only way to assess the damage and fix the problem was to turn over every rock and see what crawled out from under it.

We need them again. And just like Watergate, they need to be PUBLIC — no whining about things are “classified”: this is the people’s business, and it must be done in the full view of the people. Congress should subpoena everyone involved in this. If they decline? Send armed federal marshalls and drag them to the witness table in chains. If they refuse to testify? Lock them in a cell until they talk or die of old age. But however it’s done, we, the citizens, need and deserve answers. ALL OF THEM.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We need public hearings, and we need them NOW

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_committee

The Church Committee learned that beginning in the 1950s, the CIA and Federal Bureau of Investigation intercepted, opened and photographed more than 215,000 pieces of mail by the time the program called “HTLINGUAL” was shut down in 1973. This program was all done under the “mail covers” program. A mail cover is when the government records without a warrant or notification all information on the outside of an envelope or package, including the name of the sender and the recipient. The Church report found that the CIA was zealous about keeping the United States Postal Service from learning that mail was being opened by government agents. CIA agents moved mail to a private room to open the mail or in some cases opened envelopes at night after stuffing them in briefcases or coat pockets to deceive postal officials.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not enough teeth.

This law still gives the feds an out. It says that if they don’t feel comfortable sharing the court rulings, they should release a summary. If they don’t feel comfortable sharing the summary, the Attorney General is only required to “provide a report to Congress describing the process to be implemented to declassify FISA Court opinions including an estimate of the number of opinions that will be declassified and the number that are expected to be withheld because of national security concerns”.

http://www.merkley.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/?id=5D5997D9-4BA1-46C3-BA86-D208EC82A31E

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not enough teeth.

the reason for allowing the withholding of the entire ruling is because the point of the law is to allow people to know how the law is being interpreted: that doesn’t necessarily require the disclosure of the full ruling. (just X is suspected of Y due to Z. For example, the Miranda rights- the exact details of the case are irrelevant, just that a cop needs to read the rights before custodial interrogation, and what constitutes custodial interrogation. To give a more topical example, at what point can the feds start surveillance on someone suspected of being a terrorist? What level of proof is required? ( to me, it depends on what they are trying to do- find out who a proven terrorist has contacted- OK. find out who john doe had contacted- no.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not enough teeth.

because full disclosure of the ruling isn’t actually necessary- the summary can be something like “surveillance method Z of suspect X is authorized due to Y” with Y being an outline of what proof they have the person is a terrorist (allegation by a stranger, allegation by family, proof they attended terrorist training camp… in short, don’t go into details, but give the big picture. And no, the examples I gave aren’t necessarily sufficient proof) and suspect X being identified. surveillance method Z doesn’t have to be explained in detail, just roughly what it means (e-mails monitored? monitoring what sites they visit?)

in short, information that can identify the source of intelligence is irreleant, as are exact details of the surveillance method. ( you don’t, for example, need to know exactly how e-mails are monitored- the scandal about Prism was about the extent of surveillance, not the method)

Anonymous Coward says:

S. 1130

Congressional Record
113th Congress (2013-2014)

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS — (Senate – June 11, 2013)

[Page: S4212]

The following bills and joint resolutions were introduced, read the first and second times by unanimous consent, and referred as indicated:?.?.?.?.

By Mr. MERKLEY (for himself, Mr. LEE, Mr. HELLER, Mr. LEAHY, Mr. BEGICH, Mr. FRANKEN, Mr. TESTER, Mr. WYDEN, Mr. BLUMENTHAL, and Mr. PAUL):

S. 1130. A bill to require the Attorney General to disclose each decision, order, or opinion of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that includes significant legal interpretation of section 501 or 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 unless such disclosure is not in the national security interest of the United; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: S. 1130

Thomas link for Congressional Record page S4212 (113th Congress, 1st Session).

Note from the help on “Direct Links To THOMAS Documents”

Note: Because of the way the data is configured by the Government Printing Office, only a link to the “document” level (text between Bodoni dashes), not the exact page, is possible. Only after the document is displayed can the page numbers within that document be built in a table of contents for that document.

So it looks like that hyperlink is the closest I can generate, and you’re going to have to click through on your own to:

3 . INTRODUCTION OF BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS — (Senate – June 11, 2013)

Anonymous Coward says:

i would have thought the most important thing the Senators/Congress people should do is make sure they read, inwardly digest and discuss what every law or/and amendment is about and it’s possible consequences for doing/not doing what is contained in the document. one of the first things they need to stop doing is catering just for law enforcement (because we see exactly how far they go, even when forbidden to do so) and also stop catering just for big business. just because a business corporation or industry wants something, doesn’t mean it is in the best interest of everyone, most importantly, the people. surely, as Senators/Congress people are there to represent the people, isn’t it in everyone’s best interest that they do so? to just keep doing ‘straight re-authorization’ is ridiculous. the affects the bill has had so far needs to be looked at as well as the possible effects of renewing it

Anonymous Coward says:

From a report in The Guardian:

“Obama echoed intelligence experts ? both inside and outside the government ? who predicted that potential attackers will find other, secretive ways to communicate now that they know that their phone and Internet records may be targeted.”

As if they didn’t already know.

“It was not immediately clear how intelligence analysts weed out Americans’ online documents from those sent by a citizen of another country.”

Of course they can’t. Except by looking at what they collect.

“For example, extremists could start using online providers that do not have servers based in the U.S. and therefore do not have to comply with American court orders.”

This applies to every customer who might want privacy, not just extremists.

“Obama said he would be happy to join a new debate in Congress over whether the surveillance programs are appropriate, noting that lawmakers continually authorize the measures that some now are criticizing.”

How can there be a meaningful debate over activities that are secret?

How can the government maintain a secret interpretation of a public law?

How can lawmakers effectively criticize a program they are not allowed to describe?

Was there a senator who dissented against the Iraq war? Was it considered heroic at the time? What did he accomplish later?

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