Udall Backs Bill to Protect Constitutional Rights, Reform Surveillance Program
WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall announced his support for a new bipartisan bill to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and ensure Americans' rights to free speech and freedom from unreasonable searches are protected.
"The National Security Agency's mission is to protect our nation from foreign threats, and I support that goal, but it is becoming clear that millions of Americans' communications are being swept up in their dragnet," Udall said. "I have been concerned about the potential for abuse of these programs for years. We need to take action to ensure we're safeguarding Americans' constitutional rights as we protect our national security."
The FISA law, as well as Patriot Act provisions that broadened FISA authorities, are the legal basis for the surveillance activities of the National Security Agency (NSA). These intelligence programs have come under increasing scrutiny following revelations of that the NSA was conducting widespread surveillance of U.S. citizens' telephone and online communications and violating privacy protections.
The authority to collect intelligence under FISA is currently approved by the special FISA court, which meets in secret and issues secret opinions. Only one side is represented before the FISA court - the government.
If enacted, the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act would:
- Prohibit bulk collection of Americans' phone records;
- Prohibit bulk collection of Americans' online communications records, including email;
- Create a Constitutional Advocate to argue against the government when the FISA court is considering significant legal and constitutional questions;
- Give law-abiding citizens the ability to challenge the government's claims that this surveillance is constitutional in court;
- Provide subpoena authority to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent oversight board created following the 9/11 Commission.
Earlier this year, at a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Udall challenged the director of the NSA to become more transparent about the surveillance programs. Udall also led a bipartisan push to ask for an independent investigation of these programs by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), which was fully constituted in May with the Senate confirmation of the board's chairman.
As chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the PCLOB, Udall included $4.1 million in the fiscal year 2014 legislation for the board. These resources, $3.2 million above the fiscal year 2013 enacted level, will enable the PCLOB to hire staff and pursue its mission without delay.