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Press Release of Senator Cantwell

Cantwell: Intelligence Surveillance Must Protect National Security and Americans' Rights


Tuesday, February 12,2008


WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) issued the following statement on the Senate floor regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) bill. 
 
Cantwell’s statement as given on the Senate floor:
 
“I rise today to express concerns about the FISA Amendments Act S. 2248 before us.   This morning, the Senate lost an opportunity to strengthen this bill.  And, unfortunately, without those critical provisions, I will have to oppose the bill before us. 
 
“I thank the Senator from Connecticut for his leadership in fighting against this bill. I know he will be back on this issue at every opportunity.
 
“Mr. President, I rise to join this debate. I have been, over many years, interested and involved in privacy rights issues in a variety of capacities. Certainly, my state and the residents of my state care passionately about their rights to privacy.
 
“This administration has done a lot to blur the line between foreign intelligence gathering and spying on U.S. citizens. Now, the legislation before us today could have been improved to better protect the rights of U.S. citizens by passing amendments proposed by my colleague senator Feingold, but we turned those down.
 
“Instead what has been a delicate balance in the United States to protect the rights of privacy of U.S. citizens and national security is going to be further eroded.
 
“Congress has limited powers and so does the President. The President does not and should not have unchecked power in this or any other area. It would be contrary to our American values and our system of government, which has endured for more than 231 years.
 
“When strengthening national security, we must also safeguard civil liberties and the privacy rights of American citizens.   I cannot support a bill that fails to strike this critical balance, as the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) did.
 
“We didn't allow the government to have unchecked unlimited authority then, and we shouldn’t allow it now.
 
“There have been times in the past when both Democratic and Republican administrations lost sight of the need to protect U.S. citizens’ privacy rights.
 
“We all want to protect the United States, but how good is this approach if the end result is that everyone thinks that there is a back door to our computer operating systems, a back door to our telecommunication systems? Who will want to do business in the United States if what they think there are no secure systems, only systems to which the U.S. government will have access? Communications over the Internet, regardless of country of origin or country of destination, know no national boundaries, and travel by the most efficient route. If the Act as currently drafted goes forward, it may lead to an international reexamination of how the Internet should operate.
 
“FISA has been a very important part of our checks and balances.
 
“In our country, a Senator cannot pick or choose what laws they follow and neither should the President nor telecommunication companies.
 
“Congress should not be providing blanket immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Administration’s warrantless wiretapping programs. We don’t know precisely what those companies did or the full extent of what they did.
 
“I believe the federal courts should be allowed to rule on the legality of the companies' conduct. Congress should not move to preempt judicial decisions. Special procedures can be put in place that could allow such cases to move ahead without revealing classified information or damaging U.S. national security.
 
“Specifically, I want to touch on the lawsuit the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed against a large telecom company, accusing it of violating FISA, on behalf of a class of its customers.
 
“If retroactive immunity is granted to telecom providers, the lawsuit will be dismissed, and the public will never get an opportunity of getting even a glimpse of what happened.
 
“The issue of the federal government and telecoms possibly violating FISA came to light in part as a result of the actions of a brave whistleblower.
 
“According to media reports and internal AT&T documents provided by this whistleblower, Mark Klein, the telecom company allegedly splits off a copy of all of the internet traffic transported over fiber-optic cables running though its San Francisco office and diverts it all--emails, IMs, web browsing, everything—to a secure room under the control of the National Security Agency that contains sophisticated data-mining equipment capable of monitoring all the communications’ content in real-time.
 
“What appears to have happened is a major change in how electronic surveillance is conducted in this country.  Surveillance used to be particularized--investigators would pick a target and then intercept the communications of that target. 
 
“But now, it appears the Administration is using advances in technology to move to a wholesale surveillance regime, where everything is intercepted and then investigators sift through the hay to pick their targets.  In other words, the Administration is seizing millions of Americans communications--billions of phone calls and emails and more--in a 21st century high-tech equivalent of the King's general warrants that our Founders fought a revolution to avoid.
 
“The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants a court to be able to decide whether this new mode of surveillance is or can ever be legal, under FISA or the Fourth Amendment.  Letting the courts decide that question is critical to checks and balances, critical to ensuring that Congress' privacy laws are followed and the Fourth Amendment respected, and critical to preventing abuses of power.
 
“Therefore, I urge my colleagues to allow this case to move forward. I urge them to allow the federal courts to rule on the legality of the companies' conduct.
 
“These are the issues, I believe, that must be reviewed by the courts. I think passing this legislation really preempts what is critical judicial reviewand undermines the fundamental principle of checks and balances in our system. I know, Mr. President, that these are challenging times. But we have to remember our constitution and to remember what is effective policy.
 
“Everybody in America wants to be safer and we want to use technology to protect our national security. But, technology can be used in a way that protects privacy rights.
 
“This all goes back to checks and balances. Instead of rushing to dismantle them, Congress needs to maintain and strengthen these checks and balances in order to prevent abuses of power.  This model has worked for our country.
 
“I encourage my colleagues to make sure we remember the Fourth Amendment and we remember our citizens’ rights to privacy as well in considering this legislation, which I hope the Senate will turn down this afternoon.
 
“I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.”
 
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