A bipartisan group of eight senators, including the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, are pushing to declassify important FISA court opinions in the wake of last week's leaks about National Security Agency surveillance.
"There is plenty of room to have this debate without compromising our surveillance sources or methods or tipping our hand to our enemies. We can’t have a serious debate about how much surveillance of Americans’ communications should be permitted without ending secret law," Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a statement announcing the bill. Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy highlighted his past efforts to reveal more about the effect of provisions of the Patriot Act, which has at times put the Vermont Democrat in direct conflict with Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Feinstein also happens to sit on the Judiciary Committee.
"For years, I have pressed for information about the business records program authorized by the PATRIOT Act to be declassified,” Leahy said. “I am proud to join in this bipartisan legislative effort to increase openness and transparency so that we can shed further light on the business records program authorized by this law."
Last week's revelations about the NSA have brought increased attention to the court, which operates in secret under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It is the FISA court that required Verizon to provide bulk telephone logs to the NSA.
The other senators involved in the new effort are Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Dean Heller of Nevada, along with Democrats Mark Begich of Alaska, Al Franken of Minnesota, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Jon Tester of Montana.
The bill follows a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in which he said he's exploring a lawsuit to overturn FISA court decisions.