Secret Surveillance Court Leaves Justice Department


In the coming days, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will move from the Justice Department to a new $2 million home just off a public hallway in Washington, D.C.’s federal courthouse, reports the Washington Post. The court’s role is to determine whether the federal government can spy on U.S. citizens or foreigners in the U.S. in terrorism or espionage investigations. Created in 1978 to curtail abusive government spying, the court enjoyed an obscure existence until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when authorities intensified spying efforts.

As the number of warrant applications doubled, civil liberties advocates began to express concerns that the rights of Americans were being violated. They accused the court of being overly influenced by the government officials it oversees. That criticism played a key role in the decision to move the court to the federal courthouse, according to judges who have served on it. “I have struggled with the perception for years that we did whatever the government wanted and were rubber stamps,” said U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who served as the secret court’s chief judge from 1995 through 2002 and set in motion the move. “That was not and is not true, and this is a symbolic move that will help counter that.”

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