Senator Leahy Slams NSA Surveillance, Aims For Changes To FISA Court And NSA’s Powers

There have been a number of proposals put forth in response to the Ed Snowden leaks, but many don’t have very much support. However, having Senate Judiciary Committee boss Patrick Leahy pushing strongly for reforms is likely to get some attention. At just about the same time that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was slamming NSA surveillance to President Obama’s face at the UN, Leahy was giving a speech slamming the NSA’s practices, as well as the limp oversight of the FISA Court.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the powerful chairman of the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday strongly endorsed a series of sweeping restrictions on U.S. surveillance programs — from ending the bulk collection of Americans’ phone call logs to creating new oversight mechanisms to keep the NSA in check.

In a speech at Georgetown University Law Center, Leahy (D-Vt.) said the government “has not made its case” that the ability to collect Americans’ phone records en masse under the PATRIOT Act is “an effective counterterrorism tool, especially in light of the intrusion on Americans’ privacy rights.”

While he reiterated his support for a bill that was introduced a few months ago that restricts Section 230, his renewed focus on the FISA Court may be the more interesting tidbit:

Leahy also called for a “hard look at the existing oversight structure and what we are asking of the judges appointed to the FISA Court.” Those judges, he explained, have taken on a “regulatory role not envisioned in the original version” of the law. And the court, he said, hamstrung by the NSA’s misunderstanding of its own programs or the agency’s misleading statements, hasn’t always been able to conduct meaningful oversight.

Leahy rejected the idea that the FISA Court is an “unthinking rubber stamp,” but he did raise the possibility that Congress will rethink the court’s responsibilities and structure

This is a key point in all of this that is often missed in the debates. The FISA court was supposed to just look at warrant requests from law enforcement to make sure they make sense. But it’s changed into a body that is actually making law, by figuring out how to interpret various statutes, often in secrecy, without any opposing viewpoints presented. That’s not what it was designed to do, and it’s part of how we ended up in the situation we’re in today.

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