Colby C. Vokey, LtCol, USMC (Ret.) | June 4, 2015
The Senate voted to advance the USA Freedom Act as expected. While this act still leaves a lot to be desired, it does contain one vital provision – a requirement that the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court appoint an attorney advocate to advise the court in cases involving novel or significant interpretations of law, including input on privacy and civil liberties concerns. While this small measure of oversight still falls short of the reform needed and the powers of the special advocate are limited, it is nonetheless a vital provision that is the beginning of some checks and balances. However, Senator Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) tried to push an amendment that would weaken the special advocate provisions in the USA Freedom Act.
This is where I, as a member of the Liberty and Security Committee of the non-partisan group, The Constitution Project, went into action. The Constitution Project organized a number of national security experts to urge the Senate to reject Senator McConnell’s amendment. It worked. The Senate then rejected the amendment by a vote of 56 to 42.
The Constitution Project Senior Counsel, Rita Siemion, provided a press release that summed up our efforts and the effect. Siemion said, “This amendment is clearly intended to gut the already limited authority of a special advocate, thereby keeping the American people in the dark about the operation and decisions of the FISA court, which in the past has allowed the NSA to amass the phone records of millions of Americans. As Judge Sack recently noted in the Second Circuit decision finding the NSA phone records program illegal, having an advocate at the FISA court would improve the decision-making of the court and allow the public to have greater confidence in rulings.”
While the USA Freedom Act still falls way short of the protections and oversight that should be in place, the defeat of this amendment is one small victory for Americans and for freedom.
See constitutionproject.org for more information.