Feinstein defends foreign surveillance program amid calls for more oversight

With the clock running out, Feinstein said she hopes the bill is passed by the Senate without amendments to the bill so it can be sent straight to the president’s desk for his signature.

{mosads}The measure gives U.S. officials the authority to conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists abroad without a court order. Instead, officials can obtain court orders from the secretive FISA Court, which do not require probable cause, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Earlier in the day, Wyden argued in an impassioned floor speech that intelligence officials have failed to provide estimates on how often Americans’ email or phone communications have been swept up during foreign surveillance carried out under the law. He offered an amendment that would require intelligence agencies to report that information. 

“I think, when you talk about oversight, and you can’t even get a rough estimate of how many law-abiding Americans had their communications swept up by this law … the idea of robust oversight, really ought to be called toothless oversight if you don’t have that kind of information,” Wyden said.

Feinstein said no evidence has surfaced that a government official has attempted to circumvent the law.

“Through four years of oversight, this committee has not identified from all these reports, from all of the meetings, from all of the hearings … a single case in which a government official engaged in a willful effort to circumvent or violate the law,” she said.

Feinstein added that there have been “relatively few incidents of non-compliance” under the law and they were caused either by “human error or technical defect.”

“Now let me say this, where such incidents of non-compliance have arisen, they have been inadvertent. They have not been intentional,” Feinstein said. “They have been the result of human error or technical defect and they have been promptly reported and remedied. That is important.”

There have been 100 arrests made in the past four years to prevent terrorist attacks from occurring on U.S. soil, according to Feinstein. She said some of these arrests have been motivated by intelligence collected from the surveillance program, but did not provide a specific number.

“So this has worked,” she said, referring to the arrests made. “You know as the years go on, the intelligence becomes the way to prevent these attacks.”

In addition to Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has offered an amendment that would require the government to declassify the FISA Court’s opinions on surveillance requests. The amendment is aimed at shedding more light on how the court interprets the surveillance law since the court’s opinions are currently classified.

Feinstein said she supported that aim and offered to add Merkley’s amendment to the intelligence reauthorization bill next year, rather than have it considered in the FISA measure.

“The problem is we have four days and this particular part of the law expires,” she said. “I think this is a reasonable request … we will do another intelligence authorization bill next year and that can be certainly added to that bill.”

This post was updated at 3:31 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.

Tags Jeff Merkley

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