U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA-05), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ-02), Luis Gutierrez (D-Il-04), and J. Randy Forbes (R-VA-04) introduced bipartisan legislation today that would strengthen Congressional oversight and improve accountability of the Intelligence Community (IC). The Intelligence Oversight and Accountability Act of 2013, H.R. 3103, requires that any Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) decision, order or opinion that includes a denial of an IC request, a modification of an IC request, or results in a change to any legal interpretation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) be shared with Congress.
“Our government has a responsibility to both protect American lives and our citizens’ civil liberties,” said Thompson. “This bill helps us meet that responsibility by strengthening Congress’ aggressive oversight of our Intelligence Community. Through the oversight and accountability provided by this bill, we can help make sure our Intelligence Community operates within legal and constitutional boundaries while they continue their brave work to keep Americans safe.”
“The system of checks and balances as envisioned under the Constitution is essential to the protection of our citizens’ interests and role of our government. This bipartisan legislation will further enhance Congressional oversight over the intelligence operations of the executive branch, ensuring legal guidelines are adhered to,” said LoBiondo. “We have great respect for the men and women serving in the Intelligence Community and will continue to work to ensure they receive the support they deserve.”
“Our intelligence agencies do critical work to protect our society and way of life and they must have the public trust that comes with vigorous oversight and accountability,” said Gutierrez. “This bipartisan legislation will facilitate robust oversight and build public trust. Americans expect the government to protect national security and civil liberties with equal vigor. This bill helps us make sure the brave men and women in the Intelligence Community who work to keep America safe can continue that important mission while ensuring compliance with the legal guidelines that we have established.”
“This bipartisan legislation comes at a crucial time when many Americans no longer see their government as a force for good, but rather an invasive institution which has abused the powers its citizens bestowed on it. The security and safety of our nation must not come at the cost of our freedoms or individual liberties as American citizens. This bill will provide much needed oversight and accountability of a system which has run aground of its constitutional authority,” said Forbes.
Currently, when the FISC or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review issues a decision, order, or opinion, the Attorney General (AG) must determine if the issue considered by the FISC includes a “significant construction or interpretation of the law.” If the AG determines that the decision is significant, that information must be shared with Congress. However, if the AG determines that the decision is not “significant,” the AG is not required to share the information with Congress.
H.R. 3103 requires the AG to share all FISC decisions, orders or opinions that include a denial of an IC request, a modification of an IC request, or results in a change to any legal interpretation of FISA with Congress.
Removing discretionary elements regarding what Congress should and should not receive from the FISC, will increase the Congressional oversight of Intelligence Community tools and programs to ensure their proper use.
The bill also will allow Congress to properly assess whether information collected pursuant to, or programs authorized by, the PATRIOT Act or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), are being implemented in a manner consistent with Congressional intent and are compliant with Congressional notice requirements.
In addition, the bill requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to include enhanced summaries of the FISC’s decisions, orders, and opinions to make the facts, issues, and legal reasoning involved in these matters more accessible to Congress.
H.R. 3103 has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, on which both Gutierrez and Forbes are senior members, and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), on which Thompson, LoBiondo and Gutierrez are senior members.