The bill comes in the aftermath of the National Security Agency leak scandal that revealed some pieces of the agency’s massive domestic surveillance program, including the collection of call data on millions of Verizon customers. The leaks also revealed the existence of a program called PRISM through which the NSA gets data on users from companies such as Google, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft. Some of the key sponsors of the bill, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), have been vocal critics of the extent of government surveillance as well as the secrecy surrounding its interpretations of the Patriot Act.
Under the terms of the proposed law, the Justice Department would be required to declassify major FISC opinions as a way to give Americans a view into how the federal government is using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Patriot Act. If the attorney general determines that a specific ruling can’t be declassified without endangering national security, he can declassify a summary of it. If even that isn’t possible, then the AG would need to explain specifically why the opinion needs to be kept secret.