House lawmaker renews calls for FISA court reforms

The approach would have the White House nominate FISA court judges and have those nominees be subject to the Senate confirmation process, Schiff said in an interview with MSNBC. 

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The FISA legislation established the court as the final legal authority for U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct operations on American soil. Historically, those missions have been focused on counterintelligence operations, designed to ferret out foreign intelligence agents working inside U.S. borders. 

Currently, all 11 federal judges who sit on the FISA court were appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts and were named to the court without any measure of congressional oversight. 

That said, Schiff's proposal would allow Congress more insight into the nominees' views on privacy and civil liberties rights under the Fourth Amendment versus national security priorities. 

“I think the Court would benefit. And we are seeing former FISA court judges [say] ... that they would benefit from the opportunity to hear the opposing view [and] hear how other case law may suggest a different conclusion than what the court is arguing," Schiff said. 

Schiff is not the only lawmaker to propose how the intelligence court picks its judges. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is reportedly floating a process in which the chief justice for each federal appeals court picks a judge to sit on the FISA court, according to reports by THE New York Times

However, Blumenthal's plan would still not address the need for lawmakers to play a role in the process. 

If Schiff's proposal becomes reality, it could open the door to additional reforms to the way the intelligence court does business. 

The Senate confirmation process for FISA judges, Schiff added, would also require the declassification of the court's previous opinions justifying certain domestic intelligence programs and efforts. 

"I think that there is a lot of momentum around declassifying some of the FISA court opinions," Schiff added. 

In June, Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon proposed a bill that would require the attorney general to declassify significant opinions made by the intelligence courts.  

Even though the effort has the backing of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and other top lawmakers, the idea was dubbed dead on arrival by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in June. 

But the continued furor over revelations of domestic intelligence programs being run by the National Security Agency (NSA) is continuing to prompt calls for reform of those programs, and the FISA court rulings that justified those efforts. 

The lawmakers' efforts are taking place in the wake of classified information on two domestic surveillance programs run by the NSA that were leaked by Edward Snowden, a 30-year-old government contractor.

Details of the programs were published in The Guardian and The Washington Post in June. 

One program was designed to collect cellphone data from Verizon customers to track terror threats, and a second program, PRISM, collected data from tech companies on foreign Internet users.

President Obama and the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence committees have defended the programs as critical to national security, and said they did not violate the civil liberties of American citizens.

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