Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) has submitted a bill that would place a tiny little safeguard on the government’s use of warrantless surveillance. David Kravitz of Wired’s Threat Level blog explains the details of that proposal, the full text of which can be found here.
“Keeping Americans safe versus protecting American’s privacy is a false choice. We have a moral and Constitutional duty to do both,” Merkley said in a statement. “We can ensure our government has the tools to spy on our enemies without giving it a license to intrude into the private lives of American citizens. ”
Among other things, Merkley’s proposal (.pdf) seeks to amend a section that generally requires the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court to rubber-stamp terror-related electronic surveillance requests that ensnare Americans’ communications. The government does not have to identify the target or facility to be monitored. It can begin surveillance a week before making the request, and the surveillance can continue during the appeals process if, in a rare case, the secret FISA court rejects the surveillance application. The court’s rulings are not public.
Under Merkley’s “Protect America’s Privacy Act,” if the secret FISA court rejects a spying request, the government “must immediately stop the information acquisition and that any information collected from Americans may not be used in legal proceeding.” What’s more, if data is collected on Americans, it cannot be accessed without a standard, probable-cause warrant.
Even that weak safeguard will almost certainly be voted down, if it gets a vote at all. The leadership of both parties and the Obama administration are all firmly opposed to any limits on executive power in this regard.