Former FISA judge opposes court reforms

A former Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge has criticized a number of proposals President Obama could unveil in his list of reforms to the National Security Agency.

John Bates, who has been tapped by Chief Justice John Roberts to act as a judiciary liaison on the issue, warned against the extra workload that some reforms could bring to the court. He also branded a privacy advocate to be appointed to the court as mostly unnecessary. 

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Bates made his recommendations in a letter to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) earlier this week. President Obama is set to unveil a list of reforms during a speech on Friday, based on a list of 46 recommendations that his review panel mapped out in December. 

Bates currently serves as the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and consulted with others on the court before laying out his recommendations. 

Bates said a privacy advocate on the courts would be counterproductive in most cases that come before the court. He recommended an advocate chosen by the court, rather than an independent authority, for only a limited number of cases. 

“Advocate involvement in run-of-the-mill FISA matters would substantially hamper the work of the Courts without providing any countervailing benefit in terms of privacy protection or otherwise,” he said. 

A number of lawmakers have pushed for the reform, which was included in the list of recommendations. According to The New York Times, it is one of the recommendations Obama is likely to take up. 

Bates also argued any increase in workload should come with an equal increase in funding. He said many of the recommendations proposed by the president’s review panel would increase the burden to the courts. 

However, he argued outright against “drastically expanding the [court’s] caseload by assigning to it in excess of 20,000 administrative subpoena-type cases,” referring to subpoenas used by the FBI without court approval.

Opening the court up to more transparency could also cause “confusion and misunderstanding” among the public, if the court released summaries of its opinions. Bates argued the classified nature of the subject matter would cloud the publically released summaries. 

He also lobbied for the chief justice of the Supreme Court to continue to be tasked with appointing judges to the court. 

Roberts currently has sole authority to appoint the court’s 11 judges.