8 Senators Cross Aisle With Bill to Scrap ‘Secret Law’

Jun 11, 2013 12:24pm

Eight senators today introduced a bill that aims to put an end to the “secret law” governing the government surveillance programs like the phone data detailed in recent days.

This bill would require the attorney general to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions, “allowing Americans to know how broad of a legal authority the government is claiming to spy on Americans under the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

The bipartisan group: Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Mike Lee, R-Utah,  Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Dean Heller, R-Nev., Mark Begich, D-Ark., Al Franken, D-Minn., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore..

If the attorney general determines that a court opinion cannot be declassified without undermining national security interests, then the attorney general can declassify a summary of the opinion, according to the legislation.

If the attorney general determines that even a summary of an opinion would undermine national security, the attorney general is required to provide a report to Congress describing the process to be implemented to declassify FISA Court opinions, including an estimate of the number of opinions that will be declassified and the number that are expected to be withheld because of national security concerns.

Sen. Merkley offered this bill as an amendment in December to the re-authorization of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

The amendment would have covered declassification of rulings related to the provisions used to authorize the controversial Verizon telephone records metadata collection and the PRISM program collecting information from tech companies, both of which were disclosed last week.

Thirty-seven senators supported the effort then.

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