House members demand answers from FISA court

“We call on the FISA court to release its significant Patriot Act rulings.”

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The lawmakers’ action came after recent reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) conducted a massive surveillance program under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on domestic telephone users during the past few years.

Lawmakers have complained that the NSA took the authority granted under FISA and the Patriot Act too far, and have demanded answers on how the programs are being used. Some have said the surveillance programs violate constitutional protections of privacy.

“Our argument to the court is simple: secret law and legal opinions are antithetical to Congressional oversight and the democratic process,” Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said. “It is my hope the Court will listen to this bipartisan request that these opinions be made public.”

Under FISA, the U.S. attorney general has to give “significant” opinions to the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees, but not all members of Congress or the public have access to those documents. The lawmakers said they filed the amicus brief because they think the public should know how U.S. laws are being interpreted.

“It is difficult to do my job as a Congressman and uphold my oath to defend the Constitution when getting access to the records necessary to do my job requires permission from a select small group of other Congressmen,” Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) said.

The Patriot Act was passed in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in order to prevent further attacks.