Warrantless wiretapping authorized for 5 more years
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — The federal government will be able to listen in to your phone calls and snoop around you emails without a warrant for at least five more years, after Congress passed — and President Obama signed — the FISA Amendments Act, which authorizes the government to violate of basic constitutional rights in the name of national security.
The biggest concern for civil liberty advocates is the warrantless wiretapping program that dates back to the Bush administration’s war on terror. The program has helped the government gather intelligence, but critics like U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) say the law doesn’t do a good job of balancing national security and civil liberties.
In a release, Udall said he opposed the extension partly because Congress failed to address the loophole. In past years, Udall has said it’s not even clear how many Americans have been targeted under the program, and called for more transparency and oversight of the program.
“As a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, I’ll be the first to say that terrorism remains a serious threat to the United States, and we must be as diligent as ever in seeking to protect the American people,” Udall said.
“I receive regular briefings on our efforts to combat terrorism abroad and here at home, and I can also say with confidence that the FISA Amendments Act has been beneficial … Congress wisely worked in 2008 to place limits on this program, but there is room for improvement. I am concerned that Congress has chosen not to tighten privacy protections in this program now, while the FISA Amendments Act was up for reconsideration,” Udall continued.
“A smart but tough approach to our national security does not require the government to snoop around in Americans’ emails and phone calls without a warrant. I will keep fighting for stronger oversight and government accountability, as Coloradans expect me to do.”
This year, Udall and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) offered an amendment that would have required the Director of National Intelligence to provide information to Congress, including:
- A determination of whether any government entity has produced an estimate of the number of U.S. communications collected under the FISA Amendments Act;
- An estimate of such number, if any exist;
- An assessment of whether any wholly domestic U.S. communications have been collected under the FISA Amendments Act;
- A determination of whether any intelligence agency has ever attempted to search through communications collected under the FISA Amendments Act to find the phone calls or emails from a specific American, without obtaining a warrant or emergency authorization to do so; and,
- A determination of whether the National Security Agency has collected any type of personally identifiable information on more than 1 million Americans. (The Director of the National Security Agency has stated that “the story that we have millions or hundreds of dossiers on people is absolutely false,” but has declined to answer follow-up questions about this statement.)
Udall’s amendment states that this information shall be made available to the pubic, but gives the president the authority to make any redactions he believes are necessary to protect national security.
“I have serious concerns about the U.S. Senate’s decision to extend the FISA Amendments Act for five years without knowing whether or to what extent Americans’ communications have been collected and monitored without a judge’s order,” Udall said.
“No one – including myself – is denying that our intelligence community and law enforcement agencies need surveillance tools to protect us from terrorism at home and abroad, but we should close the current loophole that could permit unchecked snooping in Americans phone calls and emails. We cannot undermine the very Constitution we have sworn to support and defend. We do not need to choose between our safety and our constitutional rights.”
Udall and Wyden have worked together to ask the Director of National Intelligence to provide more information about the number of Americans’ communications secretly collected by the U.S. government. Udall also was part of a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, including Wyden and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who spoke on the Senate floor yesterday and today to highlight concerns with the FISA Amendments Act.