A new bill set to be introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley would bring some transparency to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court. The bill would force the government to reveal how it interprets National Security laws.
A bipartisan group of eight senators are introducing a bill Tuesday that would force the government to reveal how it interprets the laws underpinning the massive surveillance programs revealed by the Guardian.
Senator Jeff Merkley’s (D-Ore) bill, which his office said it plans to introduce to the Senate on Tuesday, would force the government to disclose the opinions of a secretive surveillance court that determines the scope of the eavesdropping on Americans’ phone records and internet communications.
It may surprise many Americans to learn that not only is much of what the government does relating to “terrorism” secret, but the government’s interpretation of laws relating to terrorism is also secret.
“I think that Americans deserve to know how our government is interpreting the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act,” Jamal Raad, a spokesman for Merkley, told the Guardian on Tuesday. “After these disclosures, folks will want to know how that works within the plain language of the law, of the Patriot Act. How does one get to gather anything, anytime, anywhere from grabbing ‘any tangible thing relevant to an investigation,'” the language of the Patriot Act…
The Obama administration has said all its surveillance efforts are subject to rigorous Fisa Court review and members of congress are sufficiently briefed on them, even though most legislators did not receive such briefings.
Without knowing how the government interprets the laws it is difficult for the public to understand what changes should be made – in other words the secrecy is a threat to democratic oversight. Congress itself often does not know how and why the FISA court is ruling. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the FISA court has only declined 11 out of 33,900 surveillance requests made by the government, making the court essentially a rubber stamp for government surveillance activity.