House bill seeks to reform FISA court

McClatchy Washington BureauSeptember 22, 2013 

Senior House Intelligence Committee member and longtime critic of the nation’s intelligence programs, Adam Schiff, D-Calif., introduced legislation Friday that would reform the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and kickstart declassification efforts on its heavily-guarded opinions.

Schiff’s bill allows an independent public interest advocate to be included during the court’s decision-making process, especially in cases regarding surveillance programs and constitutional privacy rights. The bill also creates more avenues for non-governmental parties to be involved in FISA court proceedings that regard the National Security Agency’s sweeping metadata collection programs under section 215 of the U.S. Patriot Act and section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The legislation is the first substantial Intelligence reform proposed in the House since Justin Amash’s, R-Mich., amendment to the defense spending bill, which was narrowly defeated in July. Despite rumblings that the issue has lost congressional steam in the wake of Syria, Schiff was confident his measure would find support in a fiercely partisan House.

“I don’t think that the momentum has really died down ... there’s a lot of pent-up demand for reforms in this area,” Schiff said Friday. “I think all of [the issues] still have a great deal of support behind them, bipartisan support. While you can never count on anything in a congress that’s dysfunctional, I will bet that we will see FISA reforms in this session.”

A similar measure was introduced in the Senate just before the August recess by Schiff’s Senate Intelligence Committee colleague and fellow NSA critic, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., along with Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Tom Udall, D-NM. The presence of both bills, Schiff said, will hopefully inspire change.

“I don’t know that there’s necessarily some perfect formula here,” he said, but, the presence of both proposals could make “the adversarial process a reality before the FISA court."

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