Controversial Secrecy Bills Await Congress

Congress returned from summer recess last week with a few controversial secrecy bills awaiting action in one or both houses.

The House wasted no time before voting to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act for five years by a vote of 301-118. FISA generally authorizes the electronic surveillance of non-U.S. persons without judicial authorization or probable cause. Among other troubling provisions, privacy and civil liberties advocates are particularly concerned that the bill does not expressly prohibit the surveillance of American citizens without a warrant (the bill prohibits only "intentional" targeting of US persons). The likelihood of the Senate passing the bill is complicated by opposition by Senator Wyden (D-OD), who placed a hold on a similar bill in an effort to compel the Administration to reveal the current scale of government interception of U.S. communications — something the Administration claims it cannot do.

See our Secrecy Report for the most recent numbers on FISA applications presented and approved by the FISA Court.

In the Senate, the full chamber is expected to vote fairly soon on the "anti-leaks" package of provisions as part of the 2013 Intelligence Authorization bill. The controversial anti-openness measures were hurriedly added to the Senate's version of the annual authorization bill in the wake of several high-profile leaks of national security information. There is no reason the package must be passed now. We continue to urge Congress to strip the provisions from the 2013 Intelligence Authorization bill so that they can craft a proposal that calibrates both our democracy's need for a free press and informed public and our responsibilities to national security with maximal public input, and fully debate the measure.

Categories: Uncategorized