New Congressional Bill Confronts Open-ended Government Surveillance

The government finally confirmed, after years of denials, that it was collecting our phone records in bulk. But we are told by the President and various spokespersons that since there are very strict rules in place on the uses of such information that abuses are very unlikely.

However, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, “The NSA seems to have hidden the various ways it is gathering and using information about and by Americans into so many little cubby holes that no one can find them all. Then it is selectively answering questions to hide the full extent of its collection and use of our data.”

Even a judge on the secret FISA court that had approved many surveillance operations in the past, expressed serious doubts about the honesty of the government’s explanations :

“… Given the Executive Branch’s responsibility for and expertise in determining how best to protect our national security, and in light of the scale of this bulk collection program, the Court must rely heavily on the government to monitor this program to ensure that it continues to be justified, in the view of those responsible for our national security, and that it is being implemented in a manner that protects the privacy interests of U.S. persons as required by applicable minimization procedures. To approve such a program, the Court must have every confidence that the government is doing its utmost to ensure that those responsible for implementation fully comply with the Court’s orders, The Court no longer has such confidence.”

( From formerly secret FISA Court ruling, March 2009 by Judge Reggie B. Walton, p.12 )

Senator Feinstein, Senate intelligence committee chair, until very recently a strong defender of widepread NSA survillance of foreign and domestic citizen communications, has reconsidered her uncritical support, when confronted with the disclosed facts regarding spying on foreign leaders which her committee and the President were unaware of !

She now supports  a broad congressional investigation into intelligence community surveillance practices.

“It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community,”   “…But as far as I’m concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. To that end, the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs.”

It has become clear that the intelligence agencies have been bending or ignoring existing legal restrictions. The courts are finally getting behind the curtain and recognizing this conduct for what it is, illegal government acts hidden behind secrecy.

Congress passed the laws that the government says that they are relying on to carry out these surveillance activities. It is time for Congress to not only insure that past laws are actually being followed. But to also, investigate whether new legal provisions are needed to prevent the abuses that have come to light.

In that vein, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and  Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, are working on comprehensive legislation to rein in the U.S. government’s surveillance activities.

Some of the provisions of the bill   ( H.R.3361 “‘‘USA FREEDOM Act’’, S.1599 – “USA FREEDOM Act” ) would include :

•Improve judicial review by the FISA Court
• create an Office of the Special Advocate tasked with promoting privacy interests before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which largely operates in secret;
• grant the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board subpoena authority to investigate issues related to privacy and national security;
• allow Internet and telecommunications companies to publish statistics on surveillance orders they have received from the government; and
• require the government to make new public reports on surveillance orders.

( Bloomberg BNA, Privacy & Security Law Report: News Archive, 10/07/2013 )

The surprising bi-partisan composition of the opposition to the NSA surveillance activities that have been disclosed in the internal documents released by whistleblower, Edward Snowden , augers well for such a bill being passed by Congress. Whether it would not be vetoed by the President, is open to question.




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