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.