updated 02:35 pm EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Report claims three judges in FISA Court bought Verizon stock in the last year
Judges sitting on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) may not be entirely impartial, according to a report. A number of judges on FISA Court allegedly own stock in Verizon, one of the companies subject to NSA bulk surveillance orders issued by the court, with the report suggesting this could be considered as unethical behavior by judges in an important role.
Judge James Zagel is said to have bought Verizon stock in May last year, reports Vice. In June, Zagel renewed a government request to the court to renew its metadata collection activities. Judge Susan Wright bought stock valued at $15,000 or less in October last year, according to financial disclosures acquired by the report, while Judge Dennis Saylor collected a dividend worth less than $1,000 last year.
While an ethics law states that judges must remain impartial, or relieve themselves of the case in instances where they may hold a financial stake or may have some conflict of interest, it does not apply in the FISA Court. Proceedings are ex parte, namely only requiring one party to be present, and since Verizon isn't in attendance despite being affected by potential court decisions, there is no ethical problem.
The court has a major role in allowing the NSA and other government bodies to collect metadata of telecommunications system users. According to a transparency report from the Director of National Intelligence, the court granted 1,768 FISA orders, as well as 131 Pen Register or Trap and Trace orders, affecting over 90,000 targets, though the definition of a "target" varies widely between an individual to a foreign power.