Reforms needed to restore public confidence
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the U.S. House and Senate want to ban bulk collection of Americans’ records, shield Americans from warrantless searches of their communications and install a constitutional advocate to argue significant cases before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court.
The Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act would halt the erosion of constitutional liberties resulting from invasive surveillance activities and the secret legal interpretations that have allowed this surveillance to proliferate, according Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and other supporters of the bill, including Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“These are common-sense measures that strengthen privacy rights,” Udall said at a Sept. 25 press conference, emphasizing that the bill won’t stop the legitimate collection of intelligence needed to seek out terrorists. But it would limit the government to conducting surveillance only in instances when there is a link between a particular person and suspected terrorist activity, he explained, characterizing the law as a way to tighten up surveillance authority.
The reforms are needed to restore public confidence in the intelligence community, Blumenthal said.
Current activities by U.S. intelligence agencies in no way can be reconciled with the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures, said Paul, adding that the recent conduct of American spy agencies needs a full and open public debate.
Wyden said the leaders of the intelligence community shouldn’t be making intentionally misleading statements to the American people. He said the proposed reforms appear to have at least initial support from the Obama administration.
The reforms could also help American businesses, which have been harmed internationally by the recent disclosures that they have collaborated with the U.S. government on intelligence gathering operations.
“These aren’t vague or abstract threats to our liberty. These dragnet searches are happening right now. I am proud to lead this bipartisan push to protect Americans’ privacy rights and ensure that our pursuit of security does not trample our constitutional liberties,” Udall said.
The legislation makes major reforms to the operation of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, chief among them the creation of an independent advocate to argue against the government in significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court cases.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court currently operates in secrecy and frequently makes judgments on important constitutional protections based solely on arguments made by the government. The proposed measure would create a Constitutional Advocate to present an opposing view in cases where the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is called upon to interpret U.S. surveillance laws or the Constitution.
It will also set up a process for making significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decisions public, and thereby reduce the government’s reliance on a secret body of surveillance law.
The legislation also amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to prohibit intelligence agencies from using collection authorities aimed at foreigners to conduct warrantless searches for the phone calls and emails of individual Americans. Currently, a gap in the law known as the “backdoor searches” loophole permits the government to make an end run around traditional constitutional warrant protections.
The bill will also prohibit the collecting of communications that are “about” a target rather than those to or from that target outside of terrorism contexts and will strengthen protections against targeting a foreigner in order to collect communications of Americans without a warrant — a process known as “reverse targeting.”
Filed under: Democracy, federal government, politics Tagged: | domestic surveillance, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, intelligence, Mark Udall, NSA, Ron Wyden, spying, United States, United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court