Senate Passes Reforms to NSA Programs, Including Merkley-Backed “End Secret Law” Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate passed the USA Freedom Act, legislation that will enact reforms to sweeping NSA spying programs for the first time since those programs were put in place more than a decade ago. The legislation includes a provision modeled on Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley’s “no secret law” bill that would put an end to secret interpretations of law made by the FISA Court.

Merkley released the following statement after the vote:

“The passage of the USA Freedom Act is a good first step in reining in the government’s intrusions into the privacy of law-abiding Americans. In addition to limiting the government’s bulk collection of our private records, this legislation takes a crucial step towards ending secret law. 

“Secret law has no place in a democracy.  Every citizen has a full right to know how a court interprets and applies our laws.  Otherwise citizens have no power to understand or advocate for changes in the law.  The inclusion of my ‘no secret law’ principle in this bill will go a long way toward ending the abuses of the FISA Court, which eviscerated the protections for citizens’ private records embedded in the clear language of our laws.”                                                                                                 

Under the new legislation, the FISA Court will be required to declassify or provide a declassified summary of any opinion that includes a significant construction or interpretation of any provision of law. If national security is determined to be at risk in declassifying such a decision or summary, the Director of National Intelligence can waive disclosure of those documents, but must still make public an unclassified statement prepared by the Attorney General that summarizes the significant construction or interpretation of any provision of law. 

Merkley has long pushed to end secret law. He co-authored with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) bipartisan legislation similar to the provisions now included in the USA Freedom Act.

Having previously passed the U.S. House of Representatives, the legislation now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.