Udall Questions Prudence of Long-Term Extension of Surveillance Law
Renewed FISA Amendments Act Without Sufficient Oversight, Lacks Transparency, Could Entrap Americans' Calls, Emails
Mark Udall said he is disappointed that the U.S. Senate declined to amend the FISA Amendments Act today to force the federal government to disclose if Americans' calls and emails are being searched without a judge's approval. In part because Congress failed to address this loophole, Udall opposed the extension, saying Congress must do a better job balancing national security and our constitutional liberties.
"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. But we need only look to recent history to understand why Congress needs to keep a tight rein on its surveillance efforts. It was in the months after Sept. 11, 2001 that President Bush first authorized a secret warrantless wiretapping program. 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. 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."
Udall voted against the bill after the U.S. Senate failed to include an amendment he and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) offered 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 added. "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.