By GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack.  

I agree that Congress is sorely in need of something akin to the Church Committee, which documented decades of law enforcement abuses against civil liberties groups. However, I don’t agree that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court needs more secret judges.

The FISA court was specifically tailored to provide a check and balance between Fourth Amendment principles and the government’s authority to use electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes. Instead, this secret court, which hears from only one side (the government’s), is basically a rubber stamp of whatever the executive branch wants to do.

In fact, we wouldn’t be having this debate at all but for the brave disclosures of Edward J. Snowden. The court issues secret orders containing secret interpretations of law and has far exceeded its jurisdiction by deciding that indiscriminate mass domestic surveillance is consistent with a democracy and constitutional norms.

Any investigative body tasked with evaluating the damage done by the still-expanding surveillance state will need more than whistle-blowers and journalists. It will need meaningful investigative authority, teeth to force powerful executive agencies and corporations to cooperate with its investigation, and the ability to impose consequences for wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, both whistle-blowers and journalists are facing criminal consequences; the United States has branded whistle-blowers as spies and accused journalists of being criminal co-conspirators. Protecting those who exposed government lawbreaking is as necessary as holding the lawbreakers accountable.

Washington, Sept. 4, 2013

The writer is the director of national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project.