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CNN "Newsroom" - Transcript: FISA Courts


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Congressman Adam Schiff is introducing a bill today to reform the court and allow non-government attorneys to become public interest advocates. Good morning, Congressman.


COSTELLO: Tell us what this bill would do.

SCHIFF: What it would do is introduce an adversarial process within the FISA court so that court in cases involving novel legal theories or constitutional issues could draw upon an independent voice that could speak on behalf of the public interest, the privacy interest of the American people. Almost all courts that have a significant constitutional dimension as this one are adversarial in nature.

You have both parties represented the court hears from both sides but that's not true in the FISA court. I think it's one of the reasons why the public has less confidence in the court. And by introducing this privacy advocate, I think the public would have more confidence, I think the court would be better informed in making its decisions. I think the court would appreciate the opportunity to hear from another side on some of these very tough legal issues and that's what the legislation would accomplish.

COSTELLO: I guess because as long as this court is secretive, Americans will remain skeptical of it. I mean how will public interest advocates, as you describe, help restore the faith?

SCHIFF: Well, I think that's part of the challenge. Some of the courts were by necessity is going to have to remain secret. A lot of this involves very confidential classified sources of information, sources that could be put at risk if it was a public process.

At the same time, I think the public would have more confidence that the decisions were being made properly if it knew that this court was hearing from both sides, that there was someone who was well trained to articulate the constitutional legal principles, that was there to represent the privacy interests of the public.

Some of the former FISA court judges have now spoken out publicly saying that they believe that this would be a step in the right direction to have that adversarial process so I think it will help restore some of the public confidence in the court and in the intelligence community's work.

COSTELLO: Now for the toughest question. Is there bipartisan support for your idea?

SCHIFF: I think there is. And the administration has signaled its willingness to have an advocate of this kind and I think in discussions with other members on the intelligence committee and in the House generally, I think there is bipartisan interest in more safeguards within the process. We're not talking about having a private advocacy interest in every single case that goes before the FISA court because actually what the court does most routinely is weigh in on an individual warrant that is much like a search warrant where there's no adversarial process in the criminal court system.

But on these large cases, these constitutional cases, the authorization of new programs, there I think you would really have bipartisan agreement that there ought to be an independent voice the court can draw on.

COSTELLO: Congressman Adam Schiff thanks so much for joining me this morning.

SCHIFF: Thanks Carol.


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