WASHINGTON (AP) — The secretive court that weighs whether to let the U.S. spy on terror and espionage suspects would have to hear from lawyers arguing against doing so under a new plan introduced Thursday on the heels of Congress' rejection of sharp limits on government surveillance.
The new plan by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., would force the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to hear both sides of classified cases. The court, which isn't open to the public, currently hears only from Justice Department attorneys when it considers approving applications to seize Internet and phone records from private companies. The government uses those records to target foreign suspects in terror and spy cases.
The surveillance court has been under rare scrutiny and criticism after National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden revealed in June two classified programs that aim to thwart terror attacks but that critics say invade privacy rights. The court approved one of the programs, letting the government sweep up millions of Americans' telephone records each day.
Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said allowing a court debate would give "the benefit of an adversarial process and hearing conflicting views."
His bill would task the federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board with deciding which of the cases should be challenged by opposing counsel, and potentially appointing the lawyers to argue against the Justice Department during the closed-door court hearings. The board was recently directed by President Barack Obama to scrutinize government spying.
The plan comes on top of already filed legislation to declassify more of the court's secret opinions and to require its judges to be specifically nominated for the panel by the president and then confirmed by the Senate. Federal judges are already nominated and confirmed, but are later selected for the surveillance court solely by the Supreme Court chief justice.