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Pilkington writes: "Pressure is building within the US Senate for an overhaul of the secret court that is supposed to act as a check on the National Security Agency's executive power, with one prominent senator describing the judicial panel as 'anachronistic' and outdated."

On Sunday, the prominent Democratic senator Dick Durbin added his voice to the mounting criticism of the Fisa court. (photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
On Sunday, the prominent Democratic senator Dick Durbin added his voice to the mounting criticism of the Fisa court. (photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Senator: FISA Court Is 'Anachronistic'

By Ed Pilkington, Guardian UK

29 July 13


Dick Durbin joins growing outcry among senators to rein in power of secretive court meant to serve as a check on NSA.

ressure is building within the US Senate for an overhaul of the secret court that is supposed to act as a check on the National Security Agency's executive power, with one prominent senator describing the judicial panel as "anachronistic" and outdated.

Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator for Oregon, said discussions were under way about how to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, the body entrusted with providing oversight on the NSA and its metadata-collecting activities. He told C-Span's Newsmaker programme on Sunday that the court, which was set up in 1978 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa), was ill-equipped to deal with the massive digital dragnet of millions of Americans' phone records developed by the NSA in recent years.

"In many particulars, the Fisa court is anachronistic - they are using processes that simply don't fit the times," Wyden said.

The Oregon senator is at the forefront of a growing chorus of political voices criticising the Fisa court for being biased towards the executive branch to the exclusion of all other positions. "It is the most one-sided legal process in the US, I don't know of any other legal system or court that doesn't highlight anything except one point of view - the executive point of view."

Wyden added: "When that point of view also dominates the thinking of justices, you've got a fairly combustible situation on your hands."

The court's secretive deliberations were first revealed in June by the Guardian which published its order approving the collection of phone Verizon phone records. The order was among a raft of top secret documents leaked to the Guardian and Washington Post by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Since the Guardian's disclosure, attention has grown on the composition and practices of the Fisa court. The New York Times has shown how the court has secretly expanded its operations until it now holds the status almost of a parallel supreme court.

The Times has also analysed the make-up of the court and discovered an alarming bias within the ranks of its judges in favour of government. More than a third of the justices appointed to the court since its inception have had executive branch experience.

On Sunday, the prominent Democratic senator for Illinois, Dick Durbin, added his voice to the mounting criticism of the Fisa court, telling ABC's This Week: "There should be a real court proceeding. In this case, it's fixed in a way, it's loaded. There's only one case coming before the Fisa, the government's case. Let's have an advocate for someone standing up for civil liberties to speak up about the privacy of Americans."

The outcry from Durbin and Wyden chimes with other moves within the US Senate to reform the way the court is constructed. Adam Schiff, a Democratic member of the House intelligence committee, has tabled legislation that would transfer the power to nominate judges to the court from the chief justice of the US supreme court, John Roberts, as is the current arrangement, to President Obama subject to senate approval.

The groundswell for reform received a boost from last week's narrow vote in the House of Representatives over a move to cut off federal funding for the NSA's metadata-gathering activities. The proposal to knock back the agency's collection of the phone records of millions of Americans was defeated by 217 to 205 votes, but more than half of the Democratic caucus in the House as well as 94 Republicans voted in favour of reform.

Wyden said that the vote has acted as a stimulus to discussions about NSA reform. "You are going to see a very strong and bipartisan effort in the Senate to pick up on the work of the House."

This week, the congressional debate about how to deal with anxieties over the NSA's data collection methods is certain to flair up again. On Wednesday, two congressional hearings will be held in which both sides of the argument are likely to be forcefully presented.

Those opposing positions were reflected in Sunday's political TV talk shows. Mike Rogers, chair of the Republican-led House intelligence committee, told NBC's Meet the Press that the NSA did not spy on Americans and that no names or addresses were included in its databases of phone records. "In this programme: zero privacy violations, 54 terrorist plots foiled - that's a pretty good record," he said.

Peter King, a congressman for New York, slammed fellow Republicans who had voted to cut off funding for the NSA sweep of phone records. "I thought it was absolutely disgraceful that so many Republicans voted to defund the NSA programme, which has done so much to protect our country," he told CNN.

On the other side of the argument, Mark Udall, Democratic senator from Colorado, told Face the Nation on CBS that he regarded the dragnet of phone records of millions of Americans as something that "comes close to being unconstitutional". your social media marketing partner


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+18 # seaspit 2013-07-29 08:44
What is the dollar amount of funding for NSA spying on us?
+28 # hillwright 2013-07-29 09:59
Sorry. That number would be aiding the enemy.
+35 # Larry 2013-07-29 09:33
What is so frightening is how quickly and casually we threw away the Bill of Rights. This country was founded because our forefathers wanted to guarantee themselves and their descendants basic individual rights and freedoms that were denied by the Crown; to end the oppression of arbitrary searches, seizures, death warrants, groundless arrests, summary torture and executions, and secret Star Chamber court that comprised the English system of justice. Recognize any of these in current US foreign, and now domestic policy?

There is an old axiom that if you really want to learn someone's character, don't take him/her out to dinner and a movie. Go on a camping trip and see how the person reacts stress and discomfort. We are now seeing how the United States reacts to terrorism: It turns into a police state.
+15 # RLF 2013-07-29 10:48
who needs rights? We have big buzziness to take care of us! They know what to do better than us cuz they're real smart!
+5 # 666 2013-07-29 15:16
i think these "reforms" and "criticisms" are half-hearted: half are honest efforts at seeming reforms, half are dishonest attempts to "legitimize" an illegal process by an illegitimate govt. Giving the president the power to appoint rubber-stamping fisa judges with senate approval (albeit he has that power for other federal judges) is a conflict of interest. either get rid of it or let the president appoint some, and let some be "elected" or appointed proportionally by the opposition party/parties. fisa is a special (extra-constitu tional) court, unlike anything in the constitution and it has evolved to be something like the beast of the apocalypse. let's not legitimize this beast by letting someone like obama appoint more rubber-stamping clerks to justify his illegal drones wars, surveillance, and suppression...
+2 # CandH 2013-07-29 17:52
Precisely 666. Transparency of this "beast of the apocalypse" wouldn't do any good in this post-9/11 "they hate us for our freedoms, War on Terrah (™)" environment. The "Empire" has already gone batsh*t crazy, foaming at the mouth, absolutely, positively "Feed Me Seymore!" ( It's time to end this BOTA, and reinstall The Constitution.
+19 # Candide 2013-07-29 09:41
Many thanks to Senators Durbin and Wyden and RSN for excellent work on this. We have a role to play as well, on the editorial pages and call-in shows of every description.

And it's broad: The targeting of Muslim families by agents provocateurs pushing illegal schemes, offering money to desperate people, even spending millions to prosecute and persecute professor Sami Al Arian and others whose names we'll never hear... there's an entire industry of jackals preying on innocent people for political and monetary gain, or to escape charges against them by luring others into traps.
+26 # notsofreespirit 2013-07-29 10:15
The FISA court is not anachronistic, it is unAmerican. The only thing worse is that all of its judges are appointed solely by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts with no review or oversight or approval by anybody.
+22 # RLF 2013-07-29 10:50
Nothing worse than to think your rights are being watched over by a bunch of right wing zealot judges. Can you say guilty until proven otherwise?
+17 # Citizen Mike 2013-07-29 10:59
The very idea of any kind of secret court ought to be horrifying and disgusting to every American. Secret courts, secret trials and secret laws are the tools of tyranny used by dictators like Stalin. There is no legitimate place in the United States for such a thing.

Of course, we ought not have the use of torture, kangaroo court show trials or a gulag full of political prisoners, either. What the hell are we becoming? If we do not turn back we will have a dictatorship that rounds up dissidents and puts them into concentration camps.
+2 # mdhome 2013-07-29 11:52
If we do not turn back we will have a dictatorship that rounds up dissidents and puts them into concentration camps.

What the teabaggers are accusing Obama of and will actually do when they win the white house.
+2 # 666 2013-07-29 15:18
mdhome, yes and no. I think both dems and reps/teabaggies will do this in one of the next presidential terms -- it doesn't matter, both parties are evil.
0 # mickeynow 2013-07-29 17:35
It's probably coming sooner than anybody expects. In a guise that is updated to reflect the times we live in.
+5 # Floridatexan 2013-07-29 11:53
Something I don't see mentioned often since the Snowden incident is the fact that he was working for private contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, owned 2/3 by the Carlyle Group. This is from 2002, but describes the ownership (at that time).
+4 # phrixus 2013-07-29 11:54
Any entity which rubber-stamps 99.99% of all actions put before it has no legitimate function. The FISA court should be disbanded. If replaced, the new entity's number one priority should be to ensure the protection of every US citizen's civil rights. As the situation stands now all the court does is sanction illegal government spying and enable the anti-democratic practices of agencies like the NSA.
+4 # dquandle 2013-07-29 12:26
Never mind anachronistic. The FISA courts are completely unconstitutiona l, simply acting as rubber stamps for wildly abusive agencies and criminal regimes to, with "legal" backing, shred and $hit on the constitution and rub our faces in the result.
+6 # dquandle 2013-07-29 12:36
54 f$%king terrorist plots foiled????? This is absolute horse$hit. where is the evidence? Oh they can't show us. I myself have been to the moon 34 times and have a lovely condo on the slopes of Crater Plato with a view of Mare Imbrium.... proof you say?.....

The only plots that were "foiled" , were the ones that were concocted by the FBI in an ongoing, thoroughly abusive series of entrapments, none of which required maintaing exabytes of data on hundreds of millions of people .
+4 # mjc 2013-07-29 13:45
What is striking is the fact that it is only now, when the focus is on NSA, that we are hearing cries for reform of the FISA Court. Don't know how many Americans realized that the Chief Justice plays the major role in appointing justices to this Court. There is just no way that a democratic republic can exist as a democracy when a court is set up within the government, within the intelligence agencies of the government, and certainly denies any sort of freedom, those of speech and privacy. This is the sort of court chamber that the colonists long before 1776...and some more progressive elements of Great Britain...objec ted to the most. A government that can move to spy on its citizens, that can move to detain its citizens, all without any pubic knowledge. It seems to be, in spite of the dreadful interference of the GOP in the House for any piece of legislation coming from this administration. ..that even the president of the United States BY HIMSELF should not be able to appoint the members and certainly do NOT understand how the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has any relevance to do so either. We are supposed to be a democracy, for God's sake; not a bureaucratic cover for secret actions by our government.
+2 # universlman 2013-07-29 14:11
Perfect timing following on Ed Snowden's bold disclosures and with Manning's trial ongoing. Trashing and bashing these popular men will likely backfire. Rather than seen as traitors, on the street they seem more like Daniel Ellsberg types.

After all, they were the ones who shone the first real daylight into this darkening corner of the government. It is high time to put a stop to all of these secrets. It never has been and is not now the American way.
0 # Walter J Smith 2013-07-29 15:22
Dick Durbin is again trying to reclaim his political respect when his whole Senate Democratic Party clan has abandoned all sense of democratic self-respect.

What a sad disgusting joke of a party.
0 # Art947 2013-07-29 22:35
Every time I read about this "kangaroo court" of right-wing traitors I lose all faith in the "american" system of justice! John Roberts and every member of the Congress that has supported the continuation of this body should be impeached and tried for being a traitor! Their actions seem to qualify as high crimes and misdemeanors against the American people and our Constitution. Who needs King George when we have a body that supports everything that that despot believed in?
+1 # ishmael 2013-07-30 07:55
Sane Congressional discussion followed by voting is generally the way to proceed in such matters. Beats the daylights out of the other little smarmy charades going on lately in various locations.

Although no one seems too concerned about the massive mountains of data used routinely - and very personally - by for-profit outfits like Amazon.

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