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UNITED STATES - JULY 16: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., speaks at a news conference in the Capitol on legislation that would create a new process for reviewing cases of military sexual assault and alleviate victims' fear of reporting an incident. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
A group of Democratic senators introduced legislation Thursday to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court amid revelations that it secretly authorizes widespread surveillance of Americans.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), all vocal critics of the National Security Agency's dragnet data collection, announced two new bills that would change the FISA court to a more adversarial system and appoint a special advocate to protect privacy and individual rights. Speaking to reporters at a press conference on Capitol Hill, the three Democrats slammed the court for its lack of transparency and oversight; they also emphasized a growing desire among lawmakers to respond as more information comes out on the federal government's surveillance methods.

"When this dramatic change occurred, a change that I think will be regarded as significant in our country's constitutional history, there was nobody there to offer the other side," Wyden said, referring to the court's controversial interpretation of the Patriot Act Section 215 and FISA Court Amendments Act Section 702, under which the NSA programs are lawful.

"I know of no other court in America that is so one-sided," he added. "For example, you hear often, 'you can appeal' … How do you appeal something that is secret?"

"The adversarial process is a hallmark of American justice, but the FISA court only hears one side -- the government's side," Udall said, while Blumenthal called the court "an anomaly in a democratic, transparent government." - Huffington Post, 8/1/13
More below the fold.

Here's a little more background info on Udall, Wyden and Blumenthal's bills:

One of the bills, the FISA Court Reform Act of 2013, unveiled by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., would require the court to hear evidence from a public interest legal advocate “whose client would be the Constitution” whenever the court is considering requests for surveillance programs. Currently, only attorneys for the government appear before the court, which has rejected just 11 government requests in the more than three decades it’s been operating.

A second bill, the FISA Judge Selection Reform Act, would change the way judges are selected for the court. Currently, the chief justice of the Supreme Court chooses the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s membership, but critics of the court have said recently that Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has steered appointments to judges who were named to their posts by Republicans and had worked previously as lawyers and prosecutors for the federal government. - McClatchy, 8/1/13

The FISA Court Reform Act of 2013 has been co-sponsored by Senators ens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Here's a little more info about the FISA Judge Selection Reform Act:

A separate measure from the three senators would still allow the chief justice of the US supreme court to select the Fisa court judges, but would require him to pick them from nominations brought by the chief judges of the US federal circuit courts. The court's membership would expand to 13 judges, essentially representing each of the federal courts nationwide, from the current 11.

The move is a substantial overhaul of a court that most Americans did not know existed eight weeks ago, when the Guardian published an April order from one of its former members, Roger Vinson, ordering Verizon to provide the National Security Agency with the phone records of all its customers.

Currently, the Fisa court has only one petitioner: the government. In its 35-year history, it has rejected 11 out of more than 34,000 surveillance requests, prompting its current presiding judge, Reggie Walton, to aggressively fight the perception it is a rubber stamp.

During a Senate judiciary committee hearing on Wednesday, senators of both parties professed incredulity that the Fisa court would define a section of the Patriot Act allowing the government to collect "tangible things" that are "relevant" to an ongoing terrorism or espionage investigation in a manner that allowed the government to collect the phone records of every American, without suspicion of wrongdoing and connection to any specific investigation. - The Guardian, 8/1/13

The FISA Judge Selection Reform Act has been co-sponsored by Senators Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Wyden was able to introduce the bills to President Obama in a meeting with lawmakers regarding the FISA court:

President Obama spoke with members of Congress Thursday about NSA surveillance programs, including critics who say intelligence agencies have exceeded their authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Obama invited lawmakers to the Oval Office to discuss "some of the concerns and issues around FISA that have been expressed," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Most of the scheduled guests sit on committees that deal with intelligence issues.

Before the meeting, one of Obama's guests -- Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a critic of some surveillance policies -- helped unveil two proposed bills Thursday to change the programs.

One proposal would create a special advocate to argue privacy and civil liberties concerns before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court that oversees NSA actions.

"This is a critical piece of the reform puzzle that will ensure that Americans maintain their security and their privacy," Wyden said. - USA Today, 8/1/13

Here's what Udall had to say about the bills:

"These bills do not compromise national security, but they put a necessary opposing view in the FISA court and assure ideological diversity of judges," said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Another of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the Obama administration was receptive to the ideas, although White House officials declined to comment. - NPR, 8/1/13
Udall and Blumethal believe President Obama might be open to their bills:

If Congress passes legislation to create a special advocate, “I think it is very, very likely” that Obama will sign it into law, Blumenthal said after the press conference. “Because he’s a good lawyer, he knows the importance of adversarial process.”

“Nothing certain,” Blumenthal added, “but I think he appreciates the reasons for this idea.”

“I applaud him for stepping forward and starting to listen to people and moving the dialogue along,” Udall said at the announcement Thursday. Udall noted that this wasn’t the first time some senators would be discussing the issue of the secret court with Obama. “This is something that needs to be taken care of and we want to make sure we do legislation that he’s gonna sign when it gets up there.” - International Business Times, 8/1/13
If you would like to get more information about the FISA Judge Selection Reform Act and the FISA Court Reform Act of 2013, please contact Udall, Wyden or Blumehtal's offices for more information:

Udall: (202) 224-6621

Wyden: (202) 224-5244

Blumenthal: (202) 224-2823

Originally posted to pdc on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 04:23 PM PDT.

Also republished by New Mexico Kossaks and The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

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