On January 27, 26 civil liberties, human rights, and transparency organizations sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee demanding that an upcoming “members only” meeting on surveillance be made public.
The hearing is scheduled for February 2, and is currently classified and for members only. The committee will be discussing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act, the law that the NSA uses for its PRISM surveillance program and to tap into the so-called backbone of the Internet. Both programs were revealed to the public by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Judiciary Committee member and “original author of the USA Patriot Act” Jim Sensenbrenner, (R-Wisc.) said in a statement to The Intercept that “Closed briefings are necessary for members of Congress to ask questions about classified information.”
“However, I would support a subsequent open hearing on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act because transparency and public discussion are critical to the reform and reauthorization of Section 702,” Sensenbrenner also said in his statement.
The letter calls on House Judiciary Committee to open the hearing on Section 702 up to the public. The organizations write:
“We believe that robust congressional oversight of the implementation of this statute, which is used to acquire the communications of Americans and people around the world alike without a warrant, is critical. We were surprised when we recently learned that you may soon hold a hearing in a classified format, outside of public view.”
The groups say that holding a closed hearing “continues the excessive secrecy” that has become the norm during the Obama administration and “contributed to the surveillance abuses we have seen in recent years.”
The letter also notes that the Intelligence, Armed Services, and the Judiciary Committees have previously held public sessions on matters of national security. The Senate Judiciary Committee has itself held several public hearings on NSA surveillance programs following the release of documents by Snowden.
The organizations also note that the way in which Section 702 is applied “also affects journalists who interact with confidential sources to report on issues in the public interest, and criminal defendants whose prosecutions may involve the use of evidence derived from intelligence surveillance.”
The full list of the participating organizations appears below.
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Amnesty International USA
Brennan Center for Justice
Center for Democracy &Technology
The Constitution Project
Cyber Privacy Project
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
Free Press Action Fund
Government Accountability Project
Human Rights Watch
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Security Archive
New America’s Open Technology Institute
Project On Government Oversight
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Restore The Fourth
R Street Institute