May 14, 2020

VIDEO: Udall Speaks on Senate Floor to Call on Fellow Senators to Protect Americans from Unconstitutional Privacy Violations

Ahead of vote on surveillance law, Udall urged fellow senators to protect Americans’ constitutional right to privacy

Udall voted against the original PATRIOT Act in October 2001

VIDEO LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fkwTJ2WI3Y&feature=youtu.be

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) spoke on the Senate floor today to call on the Senate to pass long-overdue protections for Americans’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights. Udall spoke ahead of the Senate’s vote on the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2020, urging the Senate to protect constitutional rights, privacy and civil liberties.

“In October 2001, I was one of 66 members in the House of Representatives who voted against the Patriot Act. It was not an easy vote. But in the years since, it’s clear it was the correct vote. Because the Patriot Act ultimately allowed the government to invade the privacy of millions of innocent Americans,” Udall said. “Congress has the opportunity to protect our civil liberties even as we protect national security. And while the House bill made improvements, it is still flawed. The House version still allows large-scale collection of Americans’ sensitive information. And, it doesn’t reform the FISA courts to prevent abuses.”

Udall continued, “We should learn the lesson of October 2001 and not rush this through the Senate. We should include amendments to better protect Americans’ civil liberties. I’m pleased this body stood in support of strengthening safeguards in the FISA court process.”

“However, our failure to protect Americans from the federal government looking over their shoulders, while they’re on the internet, and collecting personal information is unacceptable. National security does not require the federal government intruding upon the private lives of Americans – without probable cause and a search warrant. Our liberties and freedoms define us as a nation. Either we should reconsider the Wyden/Daines amendment, or we should vote ‘no’ on FISA reauthorization,” Udall concluded. 

In October 2001, Udall was one of 66 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to oppose the original PATRIOT Act and he is a cosponsor of S. 3242, bipartisan FISA reform legislation introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.).

The full text of Udall’s remarks is below:

Mr. President, reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or “FISA” is now before us. And we have an opportunity to reform this statute to protect both our constitutional rights and our security. 

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Congress hurriedly passed the Patriot Act, and authorized extraordinarily broad authority to the executive that threatened Americans’ privacy rights.

In October 2001 – I was one of 66 members in the House of Representatives who voted against the Patriot Act. It was not an easy vote. But in the years since, it’s clear it was the correct vote.

Because the Patriot Act ultimately allowed the government to invade the privacy of millions of innocent Americans. 

Exhibit number 1: Section 215 of the act.

Section 215 has been greatly abused – resulting in the bulk collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ telephone records and email contact lists. 

The nation was shocked when we found out about this bulk collection in 2013.

In 2015, we passed the Freedom Act to cure some of the abuses, but it did not cure them all. 

Section 215 and two other provisions of the Patriot Act are up for reauthorization. Congress has the opportunity to protect our civil liberties even as we protect national security. 

And while the House bill made improvements, it is still flawed. The House version still allows large-scale collection of Americans’ sensitive information. And, it doesn’t reform the FISA courts to prevent abuses.

We should learn the lesson of October 2001 – and not rush this through the Senate. We should include amendments to better protect Americans’ civil liberties. 

I support the Wyden/Daines amendment that prohibits collection of Americans’ internet website browsing and internet search history information without a search warrant. 

It is a missed opportunity for the nation that the amendment failed yesterday, although by only one vote.

Right now, the federal government can digitally track articles Americans are reading online, social media they’re using, where they’re shopping, which restaurants they’re thinking about going to. The list goes on and on.

The Fourth Amendment protects us against “unreasonable searches”. In this day and age – when so much of our life is conducted over the internet – Americans must have assurance that their web browsing – which can reveal highly sensitive information – will not be unreasonably intruded upon by federal authorities without a search warrant and probable cause. This information provides an intimate window into our lives.

It can reveal a person’s medical conditions, political and religious views, and far more. We need to make clear – the government must demonstrate probable cause to collect this type of personal information. 

Second, we need to strengthen oversight of FISA courts. We know these secret courts are subject to abuse.

In 2015, Congress authorized FISA courts to appoint amici – friends of the court – in cases involving “novel or significant interpretation of the law.”  This was a positive step forward to provide independent oversight.

But it appears there have been only 16 cases in which amici have actually been appointed. Yet, there have been more cases than 16 in which novel issues were raised, and many more cases where an independent voice is needed to defend civil rights in FISA court proceedings. 

The recent Department of Justice Inspector General report, examining 25 FISA applications, underscores this need. The IG found errors and inadequately supported facts in every application. An expanded amicus role is necessary to bring greater accountability to the application process. 

So – I voted in support of the Lee/Leahy amendment that expands amici participation to significant First Amendment activities to matters where a religious or political organization, a public official or candidate, or the news media is involved – and to matters approving new technology or reauthorizing programmatic surveillance.

Third, we must make sure FISA applications are completely accurate and all exculpatory evidence is disclosed. Accuracy and transparency are critical to maintaining integrity within our justice system.

The Lee/Leahy amendment strengthens the requirements for accuracy and disclosure of all information – including exculpatory information – in FISA applications.  

I’m pleased this body stood in support of strengthening safeguards in the FISA court process. 

However, our failure to protect Americans from the federal government looking over their shoulders, while they’re on the internet, and collecting personal information is unacceptable. 

National security does not require the federal government intruding upon the private lives of Americans – without probable cause and a search warrant. 

Mr. President, our liberties and freedoms define us as a nation.   

Either we should reconsider the Wyden/Daines amendment, or we should vote “no” on FISA reauthorization.

We don’t need to sacrifice our liberties and freedoms for an illusion of security.