This isn’t much positive to say about the virtues of Congressional oversight in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks of the NSA’s vast domestic surveillance apparatus. Congress has been little more than an active participant in the systematic violation of Americans’ rights and privacy.
But as I wrote in a recent piece at The Huffington Post, there is a growing opposition to broad NSA surveillance from people on both sides of America’s terribly narrow political spectrum. The press reports on this issue, most notably from the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, have sparked a public reaction that is being reflected in Congress, in however limited a way.
Over at the ACLU’s blog, Michelle Richardson claims “a civil-libertarian energy is stirring” in Congress and provides a list of “six bipartisan pieces of legislation to rollback NSA spying [that] have been introduced” in the last three weeks.
- The LIBERT-E Act (H.R. 2399)—from Reps. Conyers (D-Mich.), Amash (R-Mich.), and 31 other bipartisan cosponsors—would limit Section 215 of the Patriot Act and force disclosure of the secret court orders and/or legal reasoning behind all of these surveillance programs.
- The Ending Secret Law Act (S. 1130 and H.R. 2475)—sponsored by Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Lee (R-Utah) and 10 others in the Senate and Reps Schiff (D-Calif.), Rokita (R-Idaho) and five others in the House—forces the administration to release the secret court orders that have interpreted this statute and our constitutional rights. If disclosure would harm national security, the attorney general would have to write and release an unclassified summary of the secret court orders or explain why they can’t. This language got 37 “yes” votes on the Senate floor during the FISA debate this past December.
- S. 1182—from Sens. Udall (D-Colo.), Merkley, and five other bipartisan Senators—would tighten the requirements for getting a Patriot Section 215 order.
- The Restore Our Privacy Act (S. 1168) from Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.) would require the government to state with specific and articulable facts why each thing sought is relevant to an investigation.
- The Fourth Amendment Restoration Act (S. 1037), introduced by Sen. Paul (R-Ky.), would direct the government to interpret the Fourth Amendment as prohibiting searches of phone records without a warrant based on probable cause in both intelligence and criminal investigations.
- And yesterday Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act based on his past Patriot Act reform bills to rein in the Patriot Act and increase transparency.
This is really a testament to the effectiveness of Snowden’s leaks and Greenwald’s reporting. Many of these proposals are half-measures that would do little to penetrate the executive branch’s unconstitutional intelligence apparatus as a whole. But they are something, and are worth following for anyone inclined to call their representatives to urge support of these attempts to rein in domestic spying.