Intelligence oversight amendments gain committee approval

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday passed several amendments introduced by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) that intend to strengthen oversight on government intelligence efforts.

The senators’ amendments were approved during a committee markup of legislation that reforms the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

An amendment introduced by Collins would give greater authority to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to allow it to conduct independent oversight of the NSA.

“Strengthening the independent oversight provided by the PCLOB is crucial to ensuring that our nation’s counterterrorism efforts fully take into account the privacy rights of Americans, which we value so greatly,” Collins said. “With the adoption of our amendment, the PCLOB will play an increasingly important role in evaluating the implications for privacy and civil liberties of our programs to protect our nation from all acts of terrorism.”

Collins’ amendment would also ensure that the PCLOB receive copies of applications to the FISC and resulting orders that contain “significant or novel interpretation of the law and is related to counterterrorism.”

An amendment introduced by King would mandate that the FISC designate outside consultants, or “friends of the court,” to aid it in significant interpretations of the law and to provide independent perspectives.

“There is no question that the United States must take steps to combat terrorism and other threats to our security, especially in a day and age when intelligence gathering is often our primary weapon to prevent it,” King said. “At the same time, the Constitution guarantees the protection of privacy, and consequently the struggle in recent years has become how to properly balance the two.”

The creation of a system in which the FISC can consult independent experts with experience in specific areas would be “a vital step forward in ensuring the legal and technical implications of these programs are scrutinized appropriately,” King added.