Wednesday, July 10, 2013
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks, after Edward Snowden leaked an order of that court directing Verizon to turn over "comprehensive communications routing information" to the NSA. We posted here on EPIC's petition to the Supreme Court to overturn that order.
In particular, critics are taking aim at the FISC's secrecy, the un-adversarial nature of its proceedings, and the appointment process for its judges. (The FISC's decisions, though tremendously important, are classified; only the government, and not private individuals subject to surveillance, gets to make arguments to the FISC; and the Chief Justice alone appoints and details sitting federal judges to the FISC.)
Eric Lichtblau framed some of the issues last week in the NYT, and Orin Kerr reacted on Volokh. The WSJ reported on the expanding definition of "relevant" in the FISC's jurisprudence--important because under federal law the FISC can order the production of tangible things that are "relevant to an authorized investigation." That question--how far does "relevant" extend--is front-and-center in EPIC's petition at the Supreme Court.
Bloomberg editors took aim at the FISC's "missing checks and balances," adopting a recommendation by Kerr that an independent office in DOJ should advocate for privacy at the FISC, in order to create some measure of adversity before the court. Bloomberg editors also recommended changing the appointment process--a recommendation echoed at Bloomberg by Noah Feldman and Ezra Klein. In particular, critics worry that the current method of appointment could lead to a kind of group-think among judges on the FISC--a worry that seems supported by the government's breathtaking success rate at the court.
There is some legislation in Congress to address these concerns, one way or another. For example, H.R. 2440, the FISA Court in the Sunshine Act of 2013, would require the disclosure of FISC decisions, or an explanation why they can't be disclosed. H.R. 2475, the Ending Secret Law Act, and S. 1130, would do the same thing. H.R. 2586, the FISA Court Accountability Act, would provide for the appointment of FISC judges by the Chief Justice and by congressional leaders.