Edward Snowden isn’t the only government leaker gunning to reform the nation’s surveillance laws: The former NSA contractor is credited with getting the USA Freedom Act passed earlier this year, but WikiLeaks source Pvt. Chelsea Manning now has a proposal of her own, which she revealed on Tuesday.
Pvt. Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst formerly known as Bradley Channing, now serves a 35-year prison sentence for her role with the secret-spilling website. She said that most of her summer was spent penning a 139-page legislative proposal intended to roll back even further the surveillance programs exposed by Mr. Snowden.
“I drowned in research and notes,” Pvt. Manning wrote in a blog post published on Medium on Tuesday, and was intermittently given access to a word-processing computer in prison where she spent weeks crafting what she called “the most difficult undertaking in prison (so far).”
Documents disclosed to the media during the last two years revealed intelligence gathering operations conducted by the National Security Agency and other government agencies that have since been curbed, albeit only slightly, by the recent passage of the USA Freedom Act.
Yet while writing from behind bars in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, this week, Pvt. Manning said she believes the supposed reform law enacted in the wake of Mr. Snowden’s leaks “dances around the problems, without actually fixing the root issues.”
“But despite the fancy name and long-winded description, the major concerns over ‘bulk collection’ and ‘mass surveillance’ of citizens have not yet been substantially addressed in the U.S., because the legislation leaves mostly in place the secret courts established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA,” she said.
Created in 1978, the FISA Court is the government body tasked with green-lighting wiretap requests and other measures that allow investigators to snoop on foreign suspects. Documents disclosed by Mr. Snowden revealed in 2013 that the FISA Court had for years forced telecommunication companies to give the government the call logs pertaining to millions of Americans by way of blanket requests authorized under the FISA Act.
Safeguards contained in the USA Freedom Act have made adjustments to the way the government collects signals intelligence, but Pvt. Manning said the changes still leave much to be desired.
“The U.S. intelligence community is in a very poor position to be trusted with protecting civil liberties while engaging in intelligence work. When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail; when you’re a skilled intelligence professional, everything looks like a vital source for collection,” Pvt. Manning wrote.
“The solution: we should abolish the entire FISA Court system and bring all surveillance requests into the oldest and most tested court system in America: the U.S. district courts and courts of appeal,” Pvt. Manning wrote in an accompanying op-ed published by The Guardian this week.
Fight for the Future, a digital rights group, has created a petition calling on members of Congress to read Pvt. Manning’s efforts and consider “concrete alternatives and policy changes” to the nation’s surveillance programs.