WASHINGTON (AP) — A former judge is denying that a secret court is acting as a "rubber stamp" in approving surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency.

James Robertson -- who served on that court -- says it operates independently. But he also says the system is flawed because it doesn't let legal adversaries question the government's actions.

Robertson spoke today at a hearing of a federal oversight board that's been directed by President Barack Obama to look at government spying. He told the board, "A judge needs to hear both sides of a case."

He questioned whether the secret court should provide legal approval for the surveillance programs, saying the court has "turned into something like an administrative agency."

Much of the surveillance by the NSA is overseen by the special court, which meets in secret and renders rulings that are classified.

After Edward Snowden began exposing the NSA surveillance efforts in June, Obama told the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to lead a "national conversation" about the secret programs.

In addition to hearing testimony today, the board has been given several secret briefings by national security officials. It plans a public report on the matter.

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APPHOTO DCCO104: Former Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge James Roberston, testifies in Washington, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board's workshop regarding Surveillance Programs. The federal oversight board directed by President Barack Obama to scrutinize the U.S. government's secret surveillance system is hearing from civil liberties activists, a retired federal judge and a former Bush administration lawyer in the board's first public event since the spying operations were revealed in news reports. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) (9 Jul 2013)

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