Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (most commonly known as FISA), a secret intelligence court was created to authorize government wiretaps in foreign intelligence investigations. Since its initial enactment, FISA has been steadily expanded in ways that pose an increasing threat to individual rights.
Under FISA procedures, all hearings and decisions are conducted in secret. The Department of Justice has not disclosed even the most basic information about the court's activities despite repeated requests from Congress, the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups.
Furthermore, by skirting reports of illegal warrants and unlawful surveillance by the FISA court itself, the FISA Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have failed to address several fundamental issues. It is critical that the Congress ensure our judicial system is lawful and proper by providing proper oversight of this secret court.
A bipartisan group of Senators, including Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), have introduced legislation called the FISA Oversight Bill (S. 436) that would ensure our elected officials are able to provide appropriate oversight over the secret FISA court. This bill would not hinder law enforcement but instead would simply require the public accounting of basic information such as the number of Americans subjected to surveillance under FISA and the number of times that FISA information has been used for law enforcement purposes.
Take Action! Urge your Members of Congress to support the FISA Oversight Bill
Secret intelligence courts should not be without appropriate oversight
People from across the political spectrum agree that secret courts need oversight to prevent illegal surveillance and other invasions of our rights. FISA powers are broad, and the secrecy of the proceedings makes FISA powers susceptible to abuse. Without oversight there is no accountability and this secret court could rampantly issue improper and illegal warrants.
Without this legislation, the government will not disclose appropriate information
The government has not been forthcoming with even the most basic information about the operation of this secret court. Without this legislation, the government will continue to operate in secret, in contradiction to traditions of fairness and open government that have been the hallmark of our democracy.
This legislation will prevent abuse and ensure democratic principles, without hindering law enforcement
This bill does not undercut the effective and efficient operation of the FISA court. Instead it requests basic information about the scope of the court's activities, such as the number of American citizens under surveillance and the number of times that FISA information has been used for law enforcement purposes.