The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is supposed to stop abuses of warrantless surveillance power. But out of the thousands of requests for warrantless surveillance made this decade by the administration of President Barack Obama, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has not rejected a single request. Not one. This isn’t surprising; all of the members of the FISC have been appointed by authoritarian Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and only the government with its pro-surveillance stance has any voice before the court.
On December 12, 2013, the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies issued its final report containing 46 recommendations regarding warrantless surveillance. One of these recommendations, Recommendation 28, declares that “Congress should create the position of Public Interest Advocate to represent privacy and civil liberties interests before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.” H.R. 3159, introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff, would do just that. But the House of Representatives has done nothing to consider the bill, not even in committee. The bill has only 2 cosponsors: Rep. Mike Quigley and Rep John Carney.
H.R. 3361, the “USA FREEDOM ACT,” originally contained a provision instituting the position of public advocate to represent privacy and civil liberties concerns. But the Obama administration acted behind the scenes to gut the bill of its more effective provisions, and so the creation of a public advocate position was cut from the final version of the bill. The final version of the USA FREEDOM ACT was so flawed that a majority of its original cosponsors voted against its passage.
Despite the recommendation of the President’s NSA Review Panel in December 2013, the Public Advocate position at the FISA Court shows no sign of actually being created. A court stacked by an authoritarian Chief Justice that only hears the government’s position and hasn’t turned down a single request of the government for electronic surveillance in this whole decade shows every sign of continuing on the same course. With less than a handful of exceptions, our representatives in Washington, DC haven’t lifted a finger to change that course.