A handful of senators, in a bipartisan effort, introduced a bill that would force the Attorney General “to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions.” If signed into law, the bill will dissolve the “secret law” that allows the FISC to keep how it interprets law under wraps.
Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Begich (D-AR), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Ron Wyden, (D-OR) introduced the bill with the ultimate goal of keeping Americans informed about important FISC court opinions, or rather, how the court interprets the law.
Sen. Markley, author of the bill, believes that passage of the bill will allow “full debate on the extent of powers granted to our national security agencies. . . we must have transparency in how those laws are interpreted by the courts.”
Certain provisions of the bill dictate that the attorney general “can declassify a summary of the opinion” should he/she think that declassification of the complete opinion compromise the integrity of national security. Should the attorney general believe that the summary will compromise that integrity, then he/she has to “provide a report to Congress describing the process to be implemented to declassify FISC Court opinions.”
The senators who have jumped on board to introduce the bill agree that they want to maintain an effective level of national security but also want to ensure that it does not come at the expense of the American people’s privacy. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said that “there needs to be a balance between Americans’ right to privacy and the government’s responsibility to keep Americans safe.”
This is a good bill. It’s an attempt to eliminate any future potential of another NSA leak situation that has garnered a good bit of dissent among the American people by forcing the government into some form of transparency.
Oddly enough, the NSA leak doesn’t seem to be a party-line issue. The controversy has blurred the line for some, as even Glenn Beck and Michael Moore have something on which to agree.
Google has set an example and challenged the government in a letter sent specifically to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting permission to publish in a “Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures.”
Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.