Senators Introduce Legislation To Shine Light On Secret Government Surveillance Programs

Senator Jeff Merkley (Credit: Merkley.senate.gov)

A bipartisan group of legislators is supporting a bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) today, aimed at shedding light on secret court opinions that define controversial government surveillance programs. The legislation would require the Attorney General to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions, allowing the public to know how the government is interpreting their legal authority to snoop under the USA PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

In a statement to the press Sen. Merkley said, “Americans deserve to know how much information about their private communications the government believes it’s allowed to take under the law.” This echoes a sentiment expressed by National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden, who said he released documents related to secret government surveillance programs so that the public would have “the power to decide for themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice their privacy to the surveillance state.”

Leaks originating from Snowden last week revealed details of NSA programs collecting telephone and internet metadata, and caused a media firestorm over the exact details how the government can access the content of online communications.

Activists are also demanding transparency about government surveillance programs, with a broad coalition that includes organizations such as Mozilla, FreePress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), launching a petition page to “demand the U.S. Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA’s spying programs.”

Merkley offered the same bill to declassify FISC rulings as an amendment to the reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 last December, but it was rejected by the Senate on a 54-37 vote.