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A new bill would require the attorney general to declassify opinions made by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) regarding decisions made about the surveillance of American citizens under the PATRIOT Act.

The legislation — introduced Tuesday by senators Jeff Merkley (R-OR) and Mike Lee (R-UT), along with Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mark Begich (D-AK), Al Franken (D-MN), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) — would likely cover rulings related to government data mining and the PRISM program of collecting information from internet companies that were exposed by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to operate in secret about surveillance of American citizens whether they are in or out of the United States. The senators would make an exception for national security concerns, but they believe the many opinions will help illuminate what sort of activities the National Security Agency (NSA) has been engaged in under the PATRIOT Act, which became law in 2001 and was reauthorized in 2011.

“We can’t have a serious debate about how much surveillance of Americans’ communications should be permitted without ending secret law,” Merkley said. The senator from Oregon offered this same bill as an amendment to the reauthorization of the FISA Amendment Act of 2008. He was voted down.

In 2012, Senator Wyden sought to make the NSA’s actions more public. He was also voted down.

“There needs to be a balance between Americans’ right to privacy and the government’s responsibility to keep Americans safe,” Senator Franken said Tuesday. “And ensuring that the court overseeing surveillance programs is as transparent as possible is a key step toward reaching that balance. This legislation will help make the process more open to the American people and to the people of Minnesota.”

The head of the NSA, Army general Keith Alexander, told a Senate panel Wednesday, “I do think it’s important that we get this right and I want the American people to know that we’re trying to be transparent here, protect civil liberties and privacy but also the security of this country.” He claimed the secret programs led to “disrupting or contributing to the disruption of terrorist attacks.”

The New York Times‘ editorial page last weekend called for Merkely and Wyden to reintroduce their legislation, saying, “To preserve the nation’s civil liberties, the bill should be reintroduced and passed right away.”

The American Association of Law Libraries, The Constitution Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), CREDO Mobile and OpenTheGovernment.org have also endorsed the bill.

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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The baseless claim that the FBI may have planted evidence while carrying out a court-approved search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence on Monday has surged through right-wing media, as the former president’s allies continue their effort to turn their audiences against the probe and shield Trump from accountability.

The FBI searched the premises after obtaining a warrant from a federal magistrate judge and “removed a number of boxes of documents” as part of a federal investigation into whether Trump had illegally “taken a trove of material with him to his home at Mar-a-Lago when he left the White House that included sensitive documents – and then, in the Justice Department’s view, had failed to fully comply with requests that he return the disputed material,” the New York Times reported. Politico concluded after consulting with legal experts on the handling of classified documents that “it’s highly unlikely the DOJ would have pursued – and a judge would have granted – such a politically explosive search warrant without extraordinary evidence.”

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