GOP Senate challenger calls for spy court reform

Virginia’s Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie wants to change the secretive spy court that approves operations at the National Security Agency.

Gillespie told a town hall forum for technology companies on Monday that the government has paid too much attention to the fight against terrorism in recent years, at the expense of privacy and civil liberties.

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“In some ways the pendulum may have swung too far on the side of homeland security and national security and should be taking into account more privacy interests and protecting the individual,” Gillespie said at the forum, which took place at Microsoft’s office in Reston, Va.

He called for changes to that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, which oversees government spy operations but currently only hears arguments from the government’s side.

“There’s no one there to say, ‘Judge the NSA may have made a legitimate point here... but they do not outweigh the privacy rights of the American people,” Gillespie said.

An “adversarial voice” should be able to “make a case on behalf of private citizens and privacy rights for the judge to take into account where the right balance is,” he added.

Reforming the NSA has been a major focus for tech companies, who say that the Edward Snowden’s leaks created public distrust of their companies that could cost them tens of billions of dollars in lost profits.

Gillespie’s opponent, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns Senate Intel panel approves final Russia report, moves toward public release MORE (D-Va.), has endorsed a similar proposal. He sponsored an amendment to add a special lawyer to provide input on civil liberties and other matters at the FISA court.

Warner also voted in favor of a Senate Intelligence Committee bill to reform the broader surveillance law, which many privacy advocates have said was too weak to meaningfully reform the system. He said on Monday that he hoped the Senate took up that bill seemingly instead of a bill from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), which has garnered a broader range of support. 

“I hope the Intel bill moves forward,” he said.  

— Last updated at 11:16 a.m