NSA Surveillance: Congress Wants to Lift the Veil On the NSA's Spy Programs


In an article published early Tuesday, I argued that a bipartisan effort was needed immediately to conduct a full, public investigation into the domestic surveillance of Americans by the U.S. intelligence community. Later that same day, a bipartisan group of eight senators announced the first step towards that goal: a bill to "require the Attorney General to disclose each decision, order, or opinion of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) … unless such disclosure is not in the national security interest of the United States."

The bill would force the Justice Department to unseal FISC opinions, and summarize those opinions deemed sensitive to national security. The bill's co-sponsors include senators who have voiced their concern of government overreach permitted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The bill, already endorsed by the ACLU, aims to provide the transparency needed for a public debate of the National Security Agency's data gathering programs. As co-sponsoring Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have said, there is "plenty of room" for public debate on a set of programs that currently have "little or no transparency."

Wyden has been lobbying for such a bill for months. In January, after the president's reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, "When the public finds out that these secret interpretations are so dramatically different than what the public law says, I think there's going to be extraordinary anger in the country," Wyden told the Huffington Post. "Because it's one thing to have debates about laws ... but we assume that the law itself is public."

Tuesday’s bill is a long overdue step to make public the information needed for anyone outside of the upper echelons of the intelligence community to make an informed decision as to where they think the line should be drawn between security and privacy

The sponsors of the bill are Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Sen. Mark Begich (D-Ak.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

You can read the bill here.

Notable absentees include Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who said he is considering a Supreme Court challenge to the National Security Agency's surveillance programs that he called both an "extraordinary invasion of privacy" and an "astounding assault on the Constitution." Also missing is Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who earlier expressed his discomfort with the program.

This bill will hopefully encourage more senators to commit to at least allowing public debate. It is a crucial step in not online restoring our trust in the intelligence community, but also in Congress.