Hearings in Secret: Congress, FISA and Warrantless Surveillance

Saturday, January 30, 2016
By Paul Martin

By Binoy Kampmark
Global Research
January 29, 2016

It should seem axiomatic to Congressional credibility that the people’s representatives should have hearings about the Republic’s affairs in the open. If they are put there by citizens to represent citizens, the all seeing eye of the sovereign public should be present to oversee their performance.

Not so, it seems, regarding certain areas of policy deliberation. On the subject of gathering intelligence, the shroud of secrecy comes down heavily, ensuring that deliberations are away from public scrutiny and critique.

This issue is of particular interest given the hearings the House Judiciary Committee will hold next week on two of the NSA’s programs that featured in the range of disclosures by Edward Snowden in June 2013. Their names have been assimilated into the argot of popular discussion: Upstream, and in particular, PRISM.

Keeping such hearings secret has angered a range of institutes and organisations who wish to keep an eye on how discussions will unfold. These are critical, given that s. 702, in its legal force, lapses next year. Will this provision be allowed to disappear into oblivion?

On Wednesday, the 26 organisations, including the heavy hitting American Civil Liberties Union and the persistently present Human Rights Watch, waded in with an angry note to Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers.

The undersigned groups were initially appreciative about the decision to hold hearings on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, believing “that robust congressional oversight of the implementation of this statute, which is used to acquire the communications of Americans and people around the world alike without a warrant, is critical.”[1] Surprise, however, was expressed at holding the hearing “in a classified format, outside the public view.”

Holding such a hearing in secret “neither fully satisfies the promise to hold hearings nor permits the public debate that this nation deserves. Rather, it continues the excessive secrecy that has contributed to the surveillance abuses we have seen in recent years and to their adverse effects upon our civil liberties and economic growth.”

Hearings on FISA – notably the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 – have been held in open session on no less than six occasions since its creation. Implementing the statute has been a point of open discussion, with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board publishing an unclassified report on the subject. Not even that has prevented the slide into an ever intrusive, and unaccountable state of surveillance.

The Rest…HERE

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