February 13, 2008

FLOOR STATEMENT ON S. 2248, FISA AMENDMENTS ACT

            Mr. President, I rise today in opposition to final passage of this legislation, S. 2248, the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act.   I am disappointed that the Senate has failed to adequately improve the Protect America Act (PAA) which Congress enacted in August 2007, and which I voted against.

 

The President should have the necessary authority to track terrorists, intercept their communications, and disrupt their plots. Congress should make needed changes to FISA to account for changes in technology and rulings from the FISA Court involving purely international communications that pass through telecommunications routes in the United States.   While we have a solemn obligation to protect the American people, we must simultaneously uphold the Constitution and protect our civil liberties.

 

            After learning about executive branch abuses in the 1960s and 1970s, Congress passed very specific laws which authorize electronic surveillance.   Congress has regularly updated these measures over the years to provide the executive branch the tools it needs to investigate terrorists, while preserving essential oversight mechanisms for the courts and the Congress.   FISA requires the government to seek an order or warrant from the FISA Court before conducting electronic surveillance that may involve US persons.   The Act also provides for post-surveillance notice to the FISA Court by the Attorney General in an emergency.

 

I am very concerned that the FISA law was disregarded by the Administration, and want to ensure that we put an end to this type of abuse.   We are a nation of laws and no one is above the law, including the President and Attorney General.   Congress has the right to know the extent of the warrantless wiretapping program and how it was initiated and changed over the years by this Administration.

 

I voted in favor of the Judiciary Committee substitute to the Intelligence Committee bill.   The Judiciary Committee version strengthened Congressional and judicial review, including increasing the oversight by the FISA Court of the Administration's wiretapping program.   I am therefore very disappointed, Mr. President, that the Senate rejected the Judiciary Committee substitute, and that the Senate has rejected numerous amendments - including an amendment that I had offered - to improve this legislation.

 

            I am hopeful that the House will make much needed improvements in this legislation during conference, and that I can support balanced legislation that gives the intelligence community the tools it needs to track terrorists and prevent attacks, while maintaining safeguards against the abuse of power by the executive branch.    I will continue to work to ensure the safety and security of the American people, as well as their civil liberties. Domestic eavesdropping raises serious and fundamental questions regarding the conduct of the war against terrorism, the privacy rights of Americans, and the separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.   Congress must continue to work to strike the right balance, and we have not achieved that goal today.