US spy court appoints lawyers to panel of advisers

Under the USA Freedom Act, the panel is to advise the judge on privacy and technical matters

A secret U.S. spy court has appointed a five-member panel of advisers as part of the reform of the surveillance of the National Security Agency.

The presiding judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review have jointly designated five persons to be eligible to serve as an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, according to a notice on the FISC website.

The appointments have been made under the USA Freedom Act, the reform legislation that was signed into law on June 2 by President Barack Obama.

The panel consist of four lawyers and a professor of law, and does not include technology experts, although the USA Freedom Act provides for a panel of experts at the FISA court to provide guidance on matters of privacy and civil liberties, communications technology, and other technical or legal matters.

The persons appointed to the panel are Jonathan G. Cedarbaum, a partner in the law firm of WilmerHale, criminal defense lawyer John D. Cline, Laura Donohue, a professor of law at Georgetown Law, Amy Jeffress, a partner in the the law firm of Arnold & Porter, and Marc Zwillinger, a privacy and data security lawyer.

The reform of the NSA was taken up after revelations in 2013 by its former contractor, Edward Snowden, about widespread surveillance by the agency in the country and abroad, including its collection of bulk phone records of Americans.

Obama promised in January 2014 significant reform of NSA surveillance, and called on Congress to authorize the "establishment of  a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases" before the FISA court, to ensure that the court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives.

Under the USA Freedom Act, the amicus curiae is expected to provide to the court, as appropriate, legal arguments to promote the protection of individual privacy and civil liberties, information related to intelligence collection or communications technology, and legal arguments or information regarding any other area relevant to the issue presented to the court.

Another key part of the reform - the bulk collection by the NSA of phone metadata records of Americans- is set to end by the close of this month. The USA Freedom Act places curbs on the bulk collection program by leaving the phone records database in the hands of telecom operators, while allowing only a targeted search of the data by the NSA for investigations.

In September, the FISC court appointed a lawyer Preston Burton as amicus curiae in connection with a specific application by the government to retain already acquired  phone records beyond Nov. 28 for use for technical and litigation purposes.

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