Senate Majority Whip: FISA Court Is 'Fixed' and 'Loaded'

Dick Durbin wants to add a civil-liberties advocate to the court's proceedings and to limit the NSA's data collection.
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The Obama Administration says the FISA court adequately safeguards Americans' civil liberties. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who holds the second-highest Democratic leadership position in the Senate, disagrees.

"These FISA courts -- there should be a real court proceeding," he said on Sunday. "In this case, it's fixed in a way. It's loaded. There's only one case coming before the FISA court: the government's case. Let's have an advocate, or someone, standing up for civil liberties, to speak up for the privacy of Americans when they make each of these decisions, and let's release some of the transcripts, redacted, carefully redacted, so that people understand the debate that's going on in these FISA courts." When you've got a senior lawmaker calling a secret court "fixed in a way," implying that it doesn't conduct "real" proceedings, and affirming that its judges aren't hearing information that would be relevant to their decisions, that's alarming.

Unless, of course, what you want is a rubber stamp for the surveillance state.

Durbin said in the same interview that Congress should rein in the NSA's data hoovering. "I really believe that we should limit this metadata collection," he said. "The notion that we're going to collect all the phone records of everyone living in an area code on the off chance that someone in that area code may be a suspect at a later time goes way too far." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been much more deferential to the executive branch on this issue.

Perhaps Senate Democrats should replace him.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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