Constitutional Law

NSA oversight flawed by lack of legal adversaries, former FISA judge says

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Testifying Tuesday during a federal oversight hearing aimed at scrutinizing secret government surveillance, former federal judge James Robertson said that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is independent. But he said its oversight is flawed because of a lack of legal adversaries to confront the government’s actions.

“Anyone who has been a judge will tell you a judge needs to hear both sides of a case,” said James Robertson, who served on the FISA court for three years before abruptly resigning in 2005.

The Associated Press has a story about Robertson’s testimony, which includes new details about why he left the FISA court.

When Robertson left the FISA court in 2005, just days after the New York Times revealed widespread NSA warrantless wiretapping, he’d declined to explain his departure. But he confirmed to the AP on Tuesday that he “resigned in protest because the Bush administration was bypassing the court on warrantless wiretaps.”

The AP notes that FISA oversees much of the National Security Agency’s surveillance activity. The FISA court meets in secret and its rulings are classified.

Tuesday’s testimony is part of a “national conversation” about secret programs that President Obama instructed the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to conduct after Edward Snowden began exposing details of NSA operations in June.

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