Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Congressman Schiff proposes watchdog for surveillance court

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You'd think Washington was discussing nothing else these days but re-opening the government and raising the debt limit. But lawmakers are also talking about policing the super-secret courts that approve security agencies' requests for your phone and email records.

Democratic Congressman — and former federal prosecutor — Adam Schiff has introduced a measure that would create an adversarial process at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts, he says, "so the court has the advantage of hearing other voices than the government's."

The Glendale lawmaker's measure would create a pool of independent attorneys and technical experts with security clearances who'd act as public interest advocates, making counter arguments before the court. Schiff says they wouldn't be assigned to every case, but rather "when you're authorizing a whole new program or there's some very significant constitutional issue" — such as the National Security Agency's bulk collection of Americans' phone data.

Schiff's proposal is one of a number of similar surveillance court bills floating around both the House and Senate. Like other legislation, they await resolution of the budget and debt ceiling dispute before moving forward. 

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