Leahy's FISA accountability bill contains a critical flaw

To the Editor:

On June 24, Senator Leahy introduced S. 1215: FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013. The bill will require law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant before accessing the online communications of Americans, and in that regard it is a much needed improvement over the status quo.

However, Leahy's new bill has a critical flaw: instead of allowing companies to directly fight national security letters in their local court systems, section 6 of the bill makes it so that if a company receives an NSL stating that it must turn over personal information, traffic, and/or metadata about its users, it will essentially have to ask the Department of Justice for permission to challenge the letter. Even if the DoJ accepts the petition, it will still have the power to decide in which district the case will be heard. Obviously, this will make it harder for the company to represent itself if the case is to be heard on the opposite side of the country and it will make venue shopping for favorable judges (in terms of the DoJ perspective) possible if not probable.

So while the bill is a step in the right direction, it will codify into law a practice that could easily be manipulated by a dishonest administration-and this has to be remembered whether or not you happen to agree with the current administration.

At the very least, Leahy should revise section 6 so that it allows companies to fight NSLs in the court systems where they're headquartered, and without having to ask for permission to defend themselves.

But what we really need is to repeal the FISA Amendments Act reauthorization of 2012 and the almost unbelievably ironically-named USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, as well as to dismantle the rogue NSA, which covertly undermines the sovereignty and security of not only Americans, but also people and countries around the world.

It's past the time to decelerate the expansion of the surveillance state; now is the time to take it apart. Everything short of that is mere patchwork.

Peter Lynch

St. Johnsbury, Vt.

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