I'll withhold final judgement on the pending Conyers-Sensenbrenner bill until I see the bill text, but here's a reality check based on the summary provided thus far by the bill's authors:
Conyers-Sensenbrenner would leave the Surveillance State intact. It would NOT restore the probable cause-based warrant standard required by the Fourth Amendment.
Conyers-Sensenbrenner does not end the PATRIOT Act's "sneak and peak" search provision, the expansive use of "national security letters", or abolish the radical "material support" provision that was used to prosecute staff of the Humanitarian Law Project in California.
Conyers-Sensenbrenner does not even address the NSA encryption subversion scheme.
Conyers-Sensenbrenner provides no protections for national security whistleblowers like Snowden or Drake--and this debate would not even be happening without the disclosures those men have made.
Conyers-Sensenbrenner does nothing to strengthen oversight mechanisms to actually provide the public with some assurance that the bulk collection schemes really will end.
And it's chances of actually getting to the House floor? Right now, zero. Boehner, Cantor and Goodlatte (House Judiciary chairman) are all apostles of the Surveillance State. So is the leadership of HPSCI (which would have to clear the bill as well since it clearly falls within HPSCI's purview).
So a lot of time and energy is going to be expended promoting a bill that 1) leaves the Surveillance State intact, 2) does not address other critical abuses revealed by Snowden, et. al., and 3) has no prayer of making it out of the Judiciary Committee, much less to the House floor.
If you want to see what a real reform bill looks like, check out the Surveillance State Repeal Act (HR 2818).
Based on Tim's observations and some of the comments I've read, I thought I'd try to provide a little more context for some of the provisions, and also to offer the updated version of the bill that will actually be posted officially next week:
You will note that we actually have the House and Senate Judiciary Committees as committees whistleblowers can make covered disclosures to (Sections 9 and 10). This has long been an objective of Rep. Holt's and goes back to his experience on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). Rep. Holt always felt that the Judiciary Committee should be just as involved in these matters as HPSCI, particularly with respect to dealing with whistleblowers.
As a former CIA whistleblower, I can attest personally for the need for these kind of changes.
Additionally, this bill--for the first time--creates specific statutory authority for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to be involved in real oversight of the Intelligence Community (IC). Currently, the CIA Act of 1949 (among other statutes) bars GAO from conducting audits and investigations within the IC components that actually have a hands-on role (i.e. either analytically or operationally). Rep. Holt has been pushing this change for years, for obvious reasons.
Tim is correct that our intent in increasing the terms of FISC judges and allowing for their reappointment is designed to help increase their overall expertise in this area of the law and technology, which is complex to say the least. The Special Master provision was inspired by Judge Thomas Pennfield Jackson's use of them during DoJ-Microsoft anti-trust trial in the late 1990s. However, we recognize that the specific reforms proposed in this particular bill are just some that need to be made. We picked these because there is ample precedent for what we're proposing, and because we are considering follow on legislation that will more broadly reform the FISC.
I should also note that the pre-9/11 version of FISA actually worked perfectly well, as the 9/11 Commission itself noted in its report. One of the points Rep. Holt has made repeatedly is that 9/11 happened not because of a lack of information, but because the federal intelligence and law enforcement communities failed to share the information they had. As Senators Wyden and Udall have noted, the claims that these additional authorities have actually prevented attacks is at best grossly exaggerated and at worst demonstrably false.
As for the bill's chances, I'd offer the following observation: before Snowden's revelations, there was zero discussion about changing these laws because they had just been reauthorized in the last Congress. Snowden, along with some other developments (a federal judge declaring PATRIOT Act national security letters unconstitutional earlier this year) has created a different climate. As Glenn Greenwald has made clear, there will be other revelations in the coming weeks and months. As that unfolds, you will likely see public and Congressional opinion shift even further towards repealing much more, if not most, of the post-9/11 surveillance laws. That pattern is exactly how FISA came to be in 1978.
One final thought. It is true that virtually no bill that is introduced is ever enacted in exactly the form in which it was first offered. What is also true is that if people support the standard that this bill represents, they should call their House/Senate members (202-224-3121) or email them and ask them to co-sponsor HR 2818, the Surveillance State Repeal Act.
Happy to answer further questions on this thread or you can contact me thus:
Senior Policy Advisor
Office of Rep. Rush Holt
1214 Longworth House Office Building
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
I have an idea. Why not ask everybody who cares about ending the Surveillance State to 1) email/call/Tweet Senator Wyden & thank him for being a champion on civil liberties and 2) ask him to NEVER lift his hold on the bill (which would ensure it expires). We don't need a debate about a law that has gutted the Fourth Amendment...we need to kill the law.
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