US lawmaker calls for adversarial system in surveillance court

US lawmaker calls for adversarial system in surveillance court

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[JURIST] US Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) [official website] on Thursday introduced a bill [press release] to address popular concerns about personal privacy and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court [FJC summary]. If the bill is passed, the court will be presided over by judges that are nominated by the president and confirmed by congress. Additionally, it would require implementation of an adversarial system and the eventual declassification of its records. The court currently only hears confidential matters [public filings page] in an ex parte format without the direct oversight of any executive branch agency. Schiff said:

This move would likely result in a more diverse set of judges on the Court, and strengthen the checks and balances that Congress intended to create when the FISC was established. In light of the significance of the FISA Court opinions, their classified nature and their virtual unreviewability, the American people—through the Senate—should have the opportunity to probe nominees on their Fourth Amendment views and other key matters.

This bill calls for the Federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a subcommittee of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence [official websites], to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to implement the adversarial process, essentially granting congress the power to decide what is and is not kept confidential.

Revelations surrounding US government surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked debate and controversy since the leak of confidential documents in June by Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive]. Last week the FISC permitted Yahoo to declassify a redacted 2008 order [JURIST report] that the company comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in data collection. This past month civil liberties groups, Google, and Microsoft [JURIST reports] have directly challenged the court to declassify data collected under its orders. Other parties filed motions in federal court and the Supreme Court [JURIST reports] challenging the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program that benefited from the FISC’s oversight. In June the Guardian reported [JURIST report] that the NSA is collecting call data from Verizon customers under a top secret court order, prompting legislators to urge for greater oversight in the FISC. The US government has charged [JURIST report] former government contractor Snowden with espionage for leaking top secret documents, according to a sealed criminal complaint filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.