from the overkill-far-preferable-to-underkill dept
NJ Rep. Rush Holt announced back on July 11th that he was planning legislation to repeal both the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act. The text of Holt's bill, the "Surveillance State Repeal Act," has been posted, along with a summary of the key aspects of the legislation.
Holt's bill covers a lot of ground for something that only runs about 8 pages long, and as promised, some additional protection for whistleblowers is built in. Here's the summary:
The Surveillance State Repeal Act would:A couple of aspects worth noting: First, while the entirety of the PATRIOT Act is repealed, portions of the FISA Amendments Act remain unchanged, specifically Sections 103 and 110.
1. Repeal the PATRIOT Act (which contains the telephone metadata harvesting provision).
2. Repeal the FISA Amendments Act (which contains the email harvesting provision).
3. Ensure that any FISA collection against a US Person takes place only pursuant to a valid warrant based on probable cause (which was the original FISA standard from 1978 to 2001).
4. Retain the ability for government surveillance capabilities to be targeted against a specific natural person, regardless of the type of communications method(s) or device(s) being used by the subject of the surveillance.
5. Retains provisions in current law dealing with the acquisition of intelligence information involving weapons of mass destruction from entities not composed primarily of U.S. Persons.
6. Prohibit the government from mandating that electronic device or software manufacturers build in so-called “back doors” to allow the government to bypass encryption or other privacy technology built into said hardware and/or software.
7. Increase the terms of judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) from seven to ten years and allow their reappointment.
8. Mandate that the FISC utilize technologically competent Special Masters (technical and legal experts) to help determine the veracity of government claims about privacy, minimization and collection capabilities employed by the US government in FISA applications.
9. Mandate that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly monitor such domestic surveillance programs for compliance with the law, including responding to Member requests for investigations and whistleblower complaints of wrongdoing.
Section 103 requires the Attorney General to forward a copy of any "decision, order, or opinion issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review that includes significant construction or interpretation of any provision of this Act," along with any related documents, within 45 days of the decision. This is a key part of the oversight process and should probably be retained, although it also retains the right of the Director of National Intelligence to redact as much of these required documents as he sees fit (for "national security" reasons, of course).
Section 110 deals with weapons of mass destruction, as is noted in Holt's summary of the bill.
I'm not sure what extending the FISC judges' terms from 7 to 10 years and allowing for reappointment is supposed to accomplish, unless the hope is that in the future, there will be more diversity in court makeup (currently only one judge does not lean Republican) and that better judges will be retained longer. Hopefully, the addition of "Special Masters" to act in a somewhat adversarial role (or at least call "bullshit" on egregiously false claims) will result in less of a "rubber stamp" process.
The summary doesn't really address the whistleblower protections, other than the last sentence of point 9, which doesn't explain much. The wording in the bill is as follows:
SEC. 9. WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINTS.This offers better whistleblower protection, especially in terms of guarding against retaliatory actions. Unfortunately, this won't protect whistleblowers like Snowden, who quit of his own accord (eliminating the chance of retaliatory action) and is now facing espionage charges. Providing several routes for whistleblowers to take helps, but if anyone above these routes objects to the whistleblower (and is outside the "intelligence community" -- like the administration itself), the built-in protections of this legislation are nullified. (Of course, the same could be said about any legislation protecting whistleblowers, once the administration steps in. And I'm sure most officials won't consider "investigating" a whistleblower to be a "retaliatory" action, no matter how intrusive or destructive the outcome.)
(a) AUTHORIZATION TO REPORT COMPLAINTS OR INFORMATION.--An employee of or contractor to an element of the intelligence community that has knowledge of the programs and activities authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) may submit a covered complaint--
(1) to the Comptroller General of the United States;
(2) to the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representative
(3) to the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate; or
(4) in accordance with the process established under section 103H(k)(5) of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 3033(k)(5)).
(b) INVESTIGATIONS AND REPORTS TO CONGRESS.--The Comptroller General shall investigate a covered complaint submitted pursuant to subsection (b)(1) and shall submit to Congress a report containing the results of the investigation.
(c) COVERED COMPLAINT DEFINED.--In this section, the term ''covered complaint'' means a complaint or information concerning programs and activities authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) that an employee or contractor reasonably believes is evidence of--
(1) a violation of any law, rule, or regulation; or
(2) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
SEC. 10. PROHIBITION ON INTERFERENCE WITH REPORTING OF WASTE, FRAUD, ABUSE, OR CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR.
(a) IN GENERAL.--Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an officer or employee of an element of the intelligence community shall be subject to administrative sanctions, up to and including termination, for taking retaliatory action against an employee of or contractor to an element of the intelligence community who seeks to disclose or discloses covered information to--
(1) the Comptroller General;
(2) the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives;
(3) the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate; or
(4) the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.
(b) DEFINITIONS.--In this section:
(1) COVERED INFORMATION.--The term ''covered information'' means any information (including classified or sensitive information) that an employee or contractor reasonably believes is evidence of--
(A) a violation of any law, rule, or regulation; or
(B) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
Does this legislation have a chance? Rep. Amash's attempt to defund parts of the NSA's surveillance efforts lost by a handful of votes, but did prove that there was bipartisan support for dialing back the NSA's power. This is an even longer shot, and may be too aggressive to gain as much support as Amash's amendment. Of course, there will be a whole lot of rewriting going on before this ever gets to a vote, so the broad reach of this bill may be scaled back into something with better support without (hopefully) losing all of its bite.