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Secret Surveillance Court Overhaul Is Urged

Publication Date: 
July 29, 2013
Los Angeles Times
David G. Savage

Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties at the Center for Internet and Society, spoke with David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times about how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has "evolved to serve a very different role than when it began" and why this is a problem.

When the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court began in 1978, it was seen as a smart compromise aimed at protecting both national security and civil liberties.

Before, the FBI under Director J. Edgar Hoover or the U.S. attorney general could use secret wiretaps to compile damaging dossiers on perceived enemies, including politicians and activists. Under the new law, the FBI or the CIA had to go before a judge of the special court if it wanted to wiretap an "agent of a foreign power" in this country, such as a Soviet spy.


"This court has evolved to serve a very different role than when it began," said Jennifer Granick, a lawyer at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. "It is now making secret interpretations of the law, and no judge, and no court, should play that role."

She was referring to leaks last month that revealed how the government's surveillance has expanded in the last decade. One document released by intelligence analyst Edward Snowden showed that a judge on the secret court had approved an order that required a unit of Verizon to turn over all its phone records for a three-month period.