Surveillance Oversight and Disclosure Act (SODA)
Privacy Hero of the Month:
In an era of rapidly accumulating usurpations of privacy by the
federal government, the checks and balances of the constitutional
system set up by the nation's founders should play an increasingly
important role. One group of Congressmen is trying to check up
on the new surveillance state by exercising some oversight over
the executive powers granted by the PATRIOT Act and other legislation.
Their would-be vehicle to do so is called The Surveillance
Oversight and Disclosure Act (SODA).
SODA, introduced by Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel and cosponsored by
20 other legislators, would require the Justice Department to
report to Congress in greater detail on the secret warrants issued
under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the
previous year. As it stands, Justice need only report how many
surveillance orders were issued by the FISA court.
Under SODA, Justice would have to break down the figures and tell
legislators and the public how many FISA orders were issued in
each of four categories -- electronic surveillance, physical searches,
e-mail pen registers [like caller ID], and access to records.
The report would also have to specify how many times information
from FISA warants were used in court proceedings.
SODA would also require a twice-annual report to Congress' intelligence
committees on all requests made for records from public or school
libraries. Another report would detail procedures and changes
thereto used in the secret FISA court proceedings.
Similar legislation is in play in the US Senate.
Attorney General Ashcroft is now calling for a sequel to the PATRIOT
Act, which itself expanded use of secret FISA warrants. A draft
of such legislation was leaked during the winter (at the time,
Ashcroft ham-handedly denied to Congress such a sequel was in
the works). Among the many power grabs are a number of new surveillance
powers and creation of federal databases (not to mention granting
the Executive branch the ability to unilaterally
strip Americans of their citizenship).
Americans, including Congress, simply do not have the kind of
information to evaluate whether givng the feds such a ridiculous
amount of additional surveillance powers is warranted. Vastly
increased oversight efforts by Hoeffel, his co-sponsors and others
in Congress such as Judiciary Chair James Sensenbrenner are necessary
so that lawmakers can first reconsider the sweeping new surveillance
granted the feds by PATRIOT I, much less the radical proposals
of PATRIOT II. All of those fighting for such considered oversight
shoiuld be considered this month's Privacy Hero.
By James Plummer
The Privacy Villain of the Week and Privacy Hero of the Month
are projects of the National Consumer Coalition's Privacy Group.
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James Plummer at 202-467-5809.