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January 17, 2014

King Reacts to President’s Government Surveillance Reform Announcement

Several proposals reflect King’s work on Senate Intelligence Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a speech this morning at the U.S. Department of Justice, President Obama proposed reforms to the government’s surveillance programs, including some that correspond with legislation authored by U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME). Senator King, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement following the President’s address:

“As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have participated in numerous classified hearings, briefings, and meetings with top national security officials and outside experts regarding government intelligence and surveillance programs, and from the evidence I have seen, I am fully convinced that many of these programs form our nation’s first line of defense against acts of terrorism and other security threats.

“Balancing two countervailing Constitutional principles, our right to privacy and the necessity of a common defense, has historically been a vital responsibility of government.  As such, it is incumbent upon our current leaders to strike the proper balance when it comes to new intelligence surveillance techniques.  These are the fundamental issues that I have been grappling with since I joined the Senate Intelligence Committee one year ago, and I was pleased to see that several of the reforms the President discussed today correspond with changes I have proposed as a member of the Committee.

“In fact, last fall I authored an amendment, which was approved by the Intelligence Committee, to ensure the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has access to independent expertise, and I was very pleased the President announced support for just this type of capability today when he called for the creation of a ‘panel of advocates’ from outside government to assist the Court.  By creating a process whereby the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can turn to independent outsiders with specific expertise in areas such as privacy, civil liberties, or telecommunications, we will take a vital step forward in ensuring the legal and technical implications of these programs are scrutinized appropriately.

“Finally, today the President embraced the recommendation that bulk phone data should not be held by the government. In the weeks ahead, this proposal is likely to be closely scrutinized by the American public and by Congress. As part of this debate, I have proposed a compromise that would help ensure the enormous power inherent in current surveillance technology is curtailed by institutional checks. The compromise I have put forward, which was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee, would expand Legislative Branch oversight of the bulk data program by automatically recording every time the government accesses it and then reporting that information back to Congress on a quarterly basis. I look forward to engaging with President Obama and my colleagues on this and other reforms to make certain that effective checks and balances are in place.”


“To ensure that the Court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, I am calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.” – President Obama

On October 31, 2013, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported S. 1631, the “FISA Improvements Act of 2013,” which included Senator King’s amendment to require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to designate outside experts to provide independent perspectives and assist the court in reviewing matters that present a novel or significant interpretation of the law. Specifically, Section 4 of the bill, which was authored by Senator King, authorizes the Court to appoint amicus curiae to assist the Court in the consideration of applications that present a novel or significant interpretation of the law.  Section 4 states that such an outside expert may be a special counsel or an expert on privacy and civil liberties, intelligence collection, telecommunications, or any other area that may lend legal or technical expertise to the court.

The legislation also included two other critical amendments proposed by Senator King:

-          Senator King Amendment to require the Director of National Intelligence to record automatically the aggregate number of queries of bulk metadata and report that automatic recording to Congress on a quarterly basis.

-          Senators Collins and King Amendment to enhance the authority of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to conduct independent oversight of the National Security Agency’s collection activities.


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