For years, Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall has been seeking and failing to gather information on counter-terrorism laws that allow the government to spy on Americans without obtaining warrants.
Last year the Obama Administration told Udall it couldn’t say how many Americans it was spying on and, in a letter to Udall this week, the National Security Agency (NSA) agreed that the number was too difficult to reliably estimate and that, in any case, providing an estimate would violate the privacy of the Americans it was spying on.
Udall and Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, both members of the Senate’s intelligence oversight committee, have conducted a mostly lonely mission on Capitol Hill to daylight the kind of surveillance of American citizens being conducted by the government. The two men have warned repeatedly that members of the public would be shocked to learn how vulnerable they have become to government monitoring in the years since the 9/11 attacks.
In May 2011, Udall and Wyden led an unsuccessful effort to slow reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which Udall said has been rushed through Congress time and again, establishing a kind of anti-democratic tradition.
“I resent this rush to rubber-stamp laws that endanger liberties we hold so dear,” Udall told the Independent then. “They have always pressed for short-term extensions without debate. Now we were notified just a few days ago that we would be asked to pass a four-year extension. We are ensuring Americans will live with the status quo.
“Bottom line is that the Patriot Act has kept us safe for ten years but Coloradans have asked me to work to protect their liberties and freedoms and I won’t vote for it again,” he said.
Udall argues that the laws as they stand are ripe for abuse. He said law enforcement has been granted the power to trammel the privacy rights of individuals and that Congress is prevented from fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide oversight.
A main concern for Udall has been changes made through the Patriot Act to the Foreign Intelligence Service Act, changes that relaxed standards outlining when spy agencies could collect private communications passing between someone in the United States and someone abroad. As Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Blog explains, the NSA “no longer has to establish probable cause to intercept a person’s phone calls, text messages or emails within the United States as long as one party to the communications is reasonably believed to be outside the United States.”
“All that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” Wyden told Ackerman, referring to the letter he sent with Udall on May 4 to the NSA. “If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their communications collected under this law then it is all the more important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’ loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.”
Below read the letters to Udall and Wyden, the first sent by NSA Inspector General Charles McCullough, the second from Obama administration Director of Legislative Affairs Kathleen Turner.
[ Image of Sen. Mark Udall via AllVoices ]