Senator Russ Feingold
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DECEMBER 12, 2007
CONTACT: Senator Russ Feingold
Zach Lowe (Feingold) – (202) 224-8657
Senators Push For FISA Bill With More Oversight, Without Telecom Immunity
14 Senators Urge Majority Leader to Take Up Senate Judiciary Committee Version of FISA Bill
WASHINGTON - December 12 - As the Senate prepares to consider legislation to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a group of senators is urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make the FISA bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) the base bill to be considered on the Senate floor. The SJC bill makes significant improvements to the FISA bill that was reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It enhances judicial oversight of broad new surveillance authorities, contains protections for innocent Americans, and does not provide immunity to telecom companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The Senators expressing their support for the SJC FISA bill in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid are Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Barack Obama (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Joe Biden (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Jim Webb (D-VA), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
“The Judiciary Committee FISA bill fixes many of the flaws of the surveillance law we enacted in August and the new bill approved by the Intelligence Committee. Everyone agrees that we should give our intelligence officials the tools they need to go after suspected terrorists. There’s no reason we can’t do that while still protecting the privacy of innocent Americans and ensuring adequate oversight of these broad new surveillance authorities -- and without setting the dangerous precedent of granting retroactive immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an unlawful program,” Senator Feingold said.
“I strongly urge the Majority Leader to take up the Judiciary Committee’s version of the FISA legislation. It is absolutely essential that as the Senate begins debating reforms to FISA we do not include retroactive immunity provisions for telecommunications companies that may have engaged in illegal conduct. Additionally, the Judiciary Committee’s version of the FISA legislation contains much stronger safeguards which will serve to protect Americans against the President’s warantless wiretapping program,” Senator Dodd said.
“The Judiciary Committee bill restores oversight and accountability to the FISA program without unnecessarily providing retroactive immunity to companies that cooperated with the Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. It is my hope that this bill will be considered by the full Senate," Senator Obama said.
“Of course we have to do everything we can to protect the American people, but we must fight international terrorism in a way that is consistent with our Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” Senator Bernie Sanders said.
“I believe that the bill reported out of the Judiciary Committee strikes the healthiest balance between protecting our national security interests and safeguarding the basic civil and constitutional rights of American citizens,” said Senator Webb. “The Judiciary Committee bill also remains silent on immunity for the telecommunications companies, which is appropriate. If there is a compelling case for immunity, Senators supporting it will have the opportunity to make their case on the Senate floor.”
“Congress must enact a FISA bill that will produce needed intelligence, protect the privacy of Americans and respect the rule of law. The bill reported out of the Judiciary Committee does those things without undermining the structure of FISA and the rule of law by giving retroactive immunity to phone companies that may have illegally invaded the privacy of millions of Americans,” Senator Kennedy said.
The text of the letter is below. A copy of the letter is available at http://feingold.senate.gov/pdf/ltr_reid_121207.pdf.
December 12, 2007
Dear Majority Leader Reid:
We understand that the Senate will shortly be considering amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. As you know, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committee have reported very different versions of the FISA Amendments Act, S. 2248, and it is up to you, as Majority Leader, to decide how the Senate considers this legislation.
We urge you to make the version of S. 2248 reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee the base bill to be considered by the full Senate. While the structure of Title I of both bills is the same, and both make improvements over the Protect America Act, the reasonable changes to Title I made in the Judiciary Committee ensure that the FISA Court will be able to conduct much-needed oversight of the implementation of these broad new surveillance authorities, and help to better protect the rights of innocent Americans. While we appreciate the hard work that the Intelligence Committee has done on this legislation, the process by which the Judiciary Committee considered, drafted, amended and reported out its bill was an open one, allowing outside experts and the public at large the opportunity to review and comment. With regard to legislation so directly connected to the constitutional rights of Americans, the results of this open process should be accorded great weight, especially in light of the Judiciary Committee’s unique role and expertise in protecting those rights.
We also believe that the Judiciary Committee bill is preferable because it does not provide immunity for telecom companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. As this is such a controversial issue, we feel it would be appropriate to require the proponents of immunity to make their case on the floor.
Thank you for your consideration.
Russell D. Feingold (D-WI)
Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT)
Barack Obama (D-IL)
Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD)
Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)
Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI)
Jim Webb (D-VA)
Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)