Tester putting end to secrecy law
(U.S. SENATE) - Senator Jon Tester, a leading voice for protecting Americans' privacy and civil liberties, is introducing legislation to expose the "secret law" preventing Americans from knowing about the government's controversial surveillance programs.
Tester's bipartisan bill requires the U.S. Attorney General to declassify important Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions so Americans know what legal arguments the government is using to spy on them under the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Tester says increasing government transparency will help Americans and Congress hold intelligence agencies accountable and better protect privacy rights.
"We must find the right balance between protecting our nation and protecting the civil liberties that make America the greatest country in the world," Tester said. "This bill will help Congress do a better job securing that balance, while maintaining the rights guaranteed to all Americans in the Fourth Amendment."
News reports earlier this month revealed that the FISA Court secretly granted the National Security Agency access to Americans' phone and internet records without their knowledge.
Tester quickly slammed the collection of Americans' personal communications, highlighting his vote to block the extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in December.
Originally passed in 2008 despite Tester's opposition, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act allows the government to eavesdrop on phone conversations and intercept emails between law-abiding American citizens and foreign citizens - without a warrant.
Tester's legislation makes some exceptions for national security concerns. If the Attorney General determines that a Court opinion cannot be declassified without undermining national security interests, then the Attorney General can declassify a summary of the opinion or provide a report.
Tester, who has also voted against the Patriot Act multiple times, recently spoke about his strong civil liberties position.
Tester's bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).