Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Blog

Today, Adam Schiff (D-CA), a senior Member on the House Intelligence Committee introduced legislation to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to allow for the appointment of an independent, public interest advocate. The bill “Ensuring Adversarial Process in the FISA Court Act,” allows non-governmental attorneys to participate before the FISC as “Public Interest Advocates” in proceedings before the Court.  

“By allowing a public interest advocate to participate in certain cases and advocate on behalf of the privacy interests of the American people, we can strengthen the protection of our civil liberties,” said Rep. Schiff. “Even though the FISC’s deliberations are necessarily secret in nature, it’s vital that the American people have confidence that there are voices within the process arguing forcefully and effectively on behalf of the Fourth Amendment and privacy concerns of ordinary Americans.”  

Rep. Schiff’s office in a press release issued today wrote:  

The Ensuring Adversarial Process in the FISA Court Act would enable the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to appoint a pool of independent, non-governmental attorneys with experience litigating cases implicating privacy interests and Fourth Amendment protections to serve as "public interest advocates." Once selected, an attorney in the pool would be available for appointment by the FISC in cases involving novel constitutional issues or with broad privacy implications for the American people. An independent adversary would be able to challenge arguments made by the government, offer alternative approaches that are more protective of civil liberties, and argue for strong protections for privacy.

Additionally, the legislation would make several other reforms to the FISA Court process, which operates largely out of sight.  It would allow for increased opportunities for non-governmental parties and groups to file amicus briefs on issues before the FISC and it would allow independent technical experts to evaluate government programs and provide expert testimony to the FISC.

"An independent voice before the FISC will not only assure that the privacy concerns of Americans are taken into account, but it will also improve the quality of FISA court opinions by giving judges access to contrary views.  It may also result in the restructuring of programs to improve privacy safeguards while assuring the government access to information necessary to protect the country," said Schiff. 

Rep. Schiff has introduced several other pieces of legislation regarding surveillance issues, including “Ending Secret Law Act” which requires the Attorney General to declassify FISC opinions that contain significant interpretations of statutes and authorities which would allow Americans to know how the Court has interpreted the authorities granted under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. He was also a prominent voice in the wake of the NSA surveillance revelations and proposed that the government’s metadata program be revamped so that telecommunications companies retain their own data and the government only request data in connection to a phone number that they had reason to believe was associated with terrorism.  

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