Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Rep. Schiff wants more transparency at secret FISA courts

Activists Groups Protest NSA Surveillance Program

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Protesters rally outside the U.S. Capitol against the NSA's recently detailed surveillance programs

Edward Snowden’s leaks about electronic spying on Americans by the U.S. government has brought attention to the secret court that grants permission for the practice. One local Congressman has a bipartisan bill to make those courts more transparent.

When intelligence agencies want a wiretap, they have to make a case to one of the 11 judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance – or FISA - court. Since September 11, 2001, that data includes phone records and websites surfed by both foreigners and Americans.

Burbank Democrat Adam Schiff has introduced a measure that would make the court more transparent by requiring it to declassify its interpretation of law. He says the court makes some very important decisions, "some of them deep constitutional issues, and I think it would help inform the public debate and I think we can do it in a way that doesn’t compromise national  security."

The bill has bipartisan support. A similar bill — backed by a progressive and a Tea Party supporter — has been introduced in the  Senate.

Schiff’s having a tougher time finding GOP co-sponsors for a second measure that would require Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation of FISA judges. Currently they are appointed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. 
 

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