The NSA can spy on just about everything you do. The agency is able to do this thanks to the FISA Court – a secretive judicial system that approves or denies government requests to collect data. The only problem is that the government is the only one at these court hearings arguing in favor of surveillance. Three senators want to change that.
The Hill reports that Sens. Ron Wyden, Richard Blumenthal and Tom Udall have introduced the FISA Court Reform Act in the Senate. The bill would create a privacy advocate in the FISA Court to challenge government requests for data. In other words, there would finally be somebody in the court to argue for civil rights.
A central criticism of the FISA court at this point is that it rubber stamps every government request for data that comes its way. It’s not hard to see why as the judges only hear one side of the story and then they have to determine whether or not the request is constitutional based solely upon their own intuition and what the government says. With a second lawyer arguing on behalf of civil rights, the judges would finally have to consider alternative points of view.
Surprisingly, it seems that the government isn’t entirely opposed to having somebody challenge it in court. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said during a hearing on Wednesday that they would just have to look into the logistics of it all:
“There’s obviously issues we’ll have to work through as to clearances and classifications and who would be there and what their role would be. But those are the kinds of discussions we do need to have.”
In other news, the same three senators have also introduced another bill called the FISA Judge Selection Reform Act. This bill would change how FISA judges are appointed, and ensure that the judges are not all cut from the same cloth.
Both bills could go a long way in reforming what is obviously a broken system. Unfortunately, it’s only a tiny fix to a big problem. Congress needs to reign in the NSA, but the House proved last week that our lawmakers aren’t ready to put a stop to warrantless surveillance just yet.