Secret US court’s actions mired in controversy

(By Deutsche Welle) In the US, a special court decides in secret on government requests to monitor alleged terrorists. But some lawyers are concerned that post-9/11 reforms have undermined the judges’ ability to keep state power in check.

Although the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was originally designed to buttress US citizens’ constitutional rights, the secret judicial body has repeatedly sanctioned a broad expansion of domestic snooping by the federal government in the past five years.

Traditionally, the court ruled on government applications that targeted specific individuals suspected of being foreign agents. But last month, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden revealed that domestic spying by the intelligence community has become increasingly indiscriminate.

Snowden leaked to the Guardian newspaper a secret court order, which had forced the telecom giant Verizon to open the phone records of its customers to the NSA. He later revealed the PRISM surveillance program, which collects and stores Internet communications in NSA databases in the hunt for terrorism suspects.

“The FISA court today spends a lot of time signing off on these general government surveillance programs, and for better or worse they’re not in a position to look at individual cases to decide whether there is individualized suspicion,” Stephen I. Vladeck, an expert on national security law with¬†American University in Washington D.C., told DW.

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