As the world learned from former government contractor Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency had, shockingly, been given the equivalent of a free pass under the Patriot Act to spy on virtually every American every day.
A free pass, that is, until U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled last week that the NSA's sweep and storage of private data such as telephone numbers — which it argues can help pinpoint terrorist activity — is almost certainly unconstitutional and should be stopped.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has entered the fray. He is calling on Congress to stop such mass surveillance of Americans. Mr. Blumenthal is one of several members of Congress who is backing legislation that could do just that.
Now, if a U.S. government spy agency wants to engage in something like the NSA's bulk data collection, it goes to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court and applies for a warrant. The government almost always wins. Last year alone, not a single warrant request out of 1,800 was denied. In its entire history, the FISA court has rejected only 11 of 34,000 requests.
The court is secret. Unlike regular courts, there is no one in it to stand up for Americans who would be spied upon, or for the Constitution. Its members are federal judges picked by the chief justice of the United States, with no hearings, confirmation votes or public comment.
In this insular, one-sided environment, little wonder that liberty rights take a beating.
Several FISA reform proposals are floating around Congress. The one favored by Mr. Blumenthal would diversify the selection process for FISA court judges and create the position of special advocate to argue on behalf of the right to privacy and other individual rights of the American people.
It's past due.