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Sorry, Public, You're Entirely Blocked From Hearing on Surveillance Program

Groups demand House committee lift 'excessive secrecy' for hearing on surveillance law

Andrea Germanos

Are our elected officials "once again cutting out the public from an important debate over mass surveillance?" as Mark Jaycox and Dave Maass of Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) write?

It appears to be the case, as EFF and two dozen other civil liberties organizations say, because the House Judiciary Committee's upcoming hearing on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is to be held in a classified format.

That law allows for two surveillance programs: "Upstream" and PRISM—the existence of which was revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Upstream, as Techdirt previously explained, "lets the NSA partner with backbone providers like AT&T and tap their fiber lines at entry/exit points from the country and sniff through all the traffic," while PRISM is a program "in which a list of big internet firms agree to hand over certain information pursuant to a FISA court ruling rubber stamp telling them to hand over that information."

In their letter (pdf) sent Wednesday to committee chairman Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) and ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.), the groups urge the committee to commit to "principles of transparency and justice" by holding an open hearing, and state that section 702 "implicates the privacy rights of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world" including journalists, human rights activists, and criminal defendants.

The letter states that "judicious use of closed sessions" can be used to protect national security, but that for this hearing "it is unnecessary to provide members with an adequate understanding of how the law is currently implemented by the executive branch and whether that exceeds Congress' original intent."

"Doing so for the entirety of the hearing neither fully satisfies the promise to hold hearings nor permits the public debate that this nation deserves. Rather, it continues the excessive secrecy that has contributed to the surveillance abuses we have seen in recent years and to their adverse effects upon both our civil liberties and economic growth," they write.

Other signatories to the letter include the American Library Association, The Constitution Project, the National Security Archive, and Project on Government Oversight.


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