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POGO Supports Bill to Declassify Surveillance Court Opinions

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A new bipartisan bill from eight Senators seeks to expand transparency and accountability of secret surveillance programs conducted under the PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy for the Project On Government Oversight, says:

This bill would take an important step towards restoring proper checks and balances of the intelligence community. In the wake of recent revelations about the extent of the surveillance activities of the National Security Agency (NSA), the public deserves to know more about how these decisions are made. Only when the public is properly informed can there be an honest debate about the balance between the rights of citizens and our national security needs.

The bill, called the Ending Secret Law Act, is sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), accompanied by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Begich (D-Ark.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

The bill would declassify “significant” opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a secret body that meets to approve some surveillance requests under the PATRIOT and FISA acts. Of the government’s 1,789 applications in 2012 to conduct electronic surveillance, the FISC reported it “did not deny any application in whole or in part.”

The FISC opinions are of great interest to the public because, “[t]he Court’s rulings can include substantive interpretations of the law that could be quite different from a plain reading of the law passed by Congress, and such interpretations determine the extent of the government’s surveillance authority,” according to a release from the Senators sponsoring the bill. Under the new transparency requirements, the court would still be able to withhold full opinions on the grounds of national security by releasing summaries of the opinions.

“Unless there is a legitimate national security risk in the disclosure, the public has a right to know the legal rationale used by the government to justify actions that might threaten our constitutional rights—or otherwise cause us to reflect on the authority we’ve granted the government and how it’s being used,” Canterbury said. The Ending Secret Law Act is also supported by the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Civil Liberties Union, The Constitution Project, CREDO Mobile, and OpenTheGovernment.org.

Image by Flickr user jonathan mcintosh.

By: Andre Francisco
Online Producer, POGO

andre francisco Andre Francisco is the Online Producer for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: Defense, Intelligence

Authors: Andre Francisco

Submitted by Advision at: June 21, 2013
I think we are battling a lost war: it was the government it is the government and will be government who create fake scenarios to remove our freedoms. 9/11 was an inside job to create that monstrosity called patriot act that allow government to trample our constitutional rights. We are too naive to trust our government lies and it is too late to fix it.They will do anything to enslave us.
Submitted by Anonymous at: June 21, 2013
I personally have no expectation that the government can or should stop terrorists by monitoring private phone conversations. Anyone who is all right with this should volunteer to wear a recording device on their body so the government can listen to everything they say. I believe the government can do more to protect me and my family from terrorism by simply not going around the world and advancing their imperialistic policies that create terrorists in the first place. That way they will not have to monitor my phone messages.
Submitted by meyati at: June 15, 2013
Where's te petition?
Submitted by mbneace at: June 13, 2013
I agree. There has been too much over-reach. There may have been some understandable reasons for the Patriot Act when those terrible events occurred, but that is no longer true, especially with expansion of surveillance that now includes ALL. Was it Jefferson or Franklin (or both), that noted when freedom is given up for security most often both are lost.

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