Three U.S. senators have introduced legislation to enhance congressional oversight and public reporting of the FBI's domestic surveillance efforts, including the agency's efforts to monitor Internet activity by Americans. The bill would require public accounting of the number of Americans subjected to surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the number of times FISA information is used for law enforcement purposes.

Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa) is the lead supporter of the bill, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Reporting Act of 2003 (S. 436), with Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) signing on as co-sponsors.

FISA and its controversial Court of Review were created by Congress to authorize government wiretaps in foreign intelligence investigations.

FISA has been at the heart of an ongoing legal battle between privacy activists and the Department of Justice over how much latitude the Attorney General has in spying on Americans. Last May, the lower FISA court, noting numerous surveillance abuses including serious factual and legal errors in over 75 warrant applications, rejected the Attorney Generals bid for expanded spying authority.

A FISA Court of Review overturned that ruling in November. Last week, a coalition of civil liberties and Arab-American groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appeals courts decision. The ACLU contends FISA and the USA Patriot Act makes it too easy for the government to get permission to tap telephone conversations, read e-mail or search private property, and to use the information gathered in criminal cases.

Grassley's legislation would require that:

  • Surveillance on public and university libraries pursuant to administrative subpoenas, or "National Security Letters," issued under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) be reported to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees;
  • The Attorney General issue an annual public report on the total number of U.S. persons targeted for court orders issued under FISA;
  • The rules of the FISA Court and Court of Review be provided to the Senate and House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees and the Supreme Court; and
  • A public reporting of the number of times that information acquired through FISA orders is authorized for use by the Attorney General in criminal proceedings; and
  • The portions of FISA Court documents that contain legal reasoning be made public, consistent with the protection of national security, so that the public is informed of the bases of legal interpretations in FISA implementation.