The ACLU On FISA Concerns
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The inspector general's report on the FBI's Russia investigation may be the deepest public look into how the FBI investigates U.S. citizens on U.S. soil using FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA outlines the process for obtaining and renewing surveillance warrants in the name of national security.
The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized many Trump administration policies, but the organization says the inspector general's report illuminates many abuses in the FISA process, including in the case of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser.
Hina Shamsi directs the ACLU's National Security Project and joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
HINA SHAMSI: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: What did you note that was wrong, as far as you're concerned, in the surveillance of Carter Page?
SHAMSI: Well, for us, this comprehensive, first ever investigation essentially into the government's FISA system was confirmation of something that we have long been concerned about, that the one-sided, secretive nature of the surveillance approval process breeds abuse.
SIMON: And do you believe that they omitted material that might have been in Mr. Page's favor?
SHAMSI: Certainly. There was information that was selectively provided. There was information that essentially supported the FBI side of the story but didn't present information to the court that undercut that side of the story.
In a regular process, criminal defendants, for example, will get information disclosed to them about why the government suspects them of wrongdoing. And in a regular process, people would then be able to say, actually no, you got that wrong. That ability simply does not exist in the FISA approval process. So you're unable to correct the government's errors, omissions, and potential falsehoods if they exist.
SIMON: What about the argument that surveillance requests under FISA, as I don't have to tell you, are almost never rejected by courts. And therefore, that shows that great care is taken in preparing these requests and that they meet a very tough standard?
SHAMSI: You know, in many ways, it's an argument that is disproven by the inspector general report. So some of the reforms that we have been proposing to Congress are to say, for example, that individuals who are prosecuted with the aid of FISA surveillance should have the opportunity to access and review the government's applications and orders. And people who've been targeted by surveillance - and right now people targeted never find out that people are provided even notice after the surveillance in order to be able to challenge or correct the record.
SIMON: Is it your feeling, Ms. Shamsi, that if something like this can be done in the case of a former Trump campaign adviser, it means it can be done to a lot of people that don't have the resources to defend themselves or the public platform?
SHAMSI: That's exactly the thing. What's so striking here is that this surveillance application, the Carter Page surveillance application, was subjected to far greater internal scrutiny than most applications usually are by the FBI. And if that still overlooks these serious omissions and errors, then you have to ask, as we have long done, what kinds of errors occur in less scrutinized cases that never actually receive the benefit of an inspector general's review.
SIMON: There are a lot of Americans who are concerned now about foreign influence on U.S. elections. Are you concerned about changing FISA restrictions at a time when they might be most needed?
SHAMSI: So, Scott, our concern is that national security policies and programs be both effective and have basic safeguards to protect people's civil liberties and rights. The kinds of harms and errors that the inspector general identifies are, you know, concerns that equally apply to very intrusive investigations of others on a regular basis, especially Muslims, racial and religious minorities, those who dissent. And our system needs reform because we need far better safeguards against government abuse that is aided by government secrecy.
SIMON: Hina Shamsi is director of the ACLU's National Security Project. Thanks so much for being with us.
SHAMSI: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.