Finally we got one man in the United States Senate wanting to put changes in to prevent NSA spying abuse, and it’s a man with the power to do so – Patrick Leahy:
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 National Security Agency in check.
In a speech at Georgetown University Law Center, the Vermont Democrat 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.”
Leahy also has decided to look at changes to the FISA court, which has not had the power the original law envisioned.
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. That would certainly satisfy some Democrats on his committee, who have unveiled legislation that would change the way FISA judges are appointed while naming a special public defender, of sorts, to argue for privacy interests against government surveillance requests. Leahy, though, is not currently a co-sponsor of that bill.
It’s about time we see action on this. I do believe we have a need for an agency like the NSA, but that agency also needs strong oversight given the easy opportunity for abuse. Reworking the FISA court is the perfect way to do this, keeping the needed checks and balances our Constitution demands. I just hope additional checks are put into place giving the appropriate congressional committees a level of review and oversight of the court and NSA. On top of that we need severe criminal penalties for any government employee that tries to circumvent these checks and balances.