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FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. UDALL of New Mexico. Madam President, I rise today to express my longstanding concerns about the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. We are being asked to extend the sunset provisions in the Act until 2017. Without adoption of the amendments to include additional privacy protections and oversight requirements, I cannot support an extension.

We all appreciate the dedicated work of the intelligence community. They have a big job in keeping us safe. But we also have to protect the constitutional rights of American citizens. That goes to the heart of who we are. Of what our country stands for. These aims are not contradictory. We can do both. And we must do both.

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 gave broad powers to the intelligence community. Too broad, for some of us. I was one of the minority votes in the House against FISA. It allows a very wide net to search phone calls and emails of foreigners outside of the United States.

We knew then, and we know now, that net would also scoop up the private communications of American citizens. The challenge was clear. Go after the bad guys. But do not violate the privacy of the American people. So the Act contained specific limitations.

Now, 4 years later, we are asking a basic question. Have those limitations worked? And the answer is--we really do not know.

This uncertainty is not for lack of trying. We have tried to get answers. Numerous times. But the information is still lacking. Intelligence officials have said they are unable to tell us how many U.S. communications have been collected under FISA authority. Not an actual number. Not an exact number. Not even an estimate.

Plain and simple--we need more information. How else can we evaluate this policy? The American public has a right to know. And needs to know. How many Americans are affected by FISA? Are existing privacy protections working? Are they too weak? Do they need to be strengthened? These are vital questions. They need to be answered. And so far they have not been.

That is why the amendments that have been offered are so important. These amendments are intended to strengthen privacy protections of American citizens and to improve congressional oversight. These amendments will improve FISA. And they deserve bipartisan support.

I want to emphasize my support for Senator Wyden's amendment that we will vote on this morning. The amendment would require the Director of National Intelligence to report to Congress on the impact of FISA. And provide specific information. In particular, how many U.S. communications have been collected under the Act? Have there been deliberate attempts to search the phone calls or emails of individual Americans? Without obtaining a warrant or emergency authorization?

The Director's report would be available to the public. And the President could withhold public disclosure of any information necessary to national security. This amendment will not compromise national security. But it will help protect the rights of American citizens.

As Senator Wyden stated on the floor yesterday, several of us sent letters to Director Clapper requesting this information, but have not received an adequate response. The Wyden amendment would ensure that Congress has the information we need to make an informed decision about whether to extend future sunset provisions.

The war on terrorism that began after the 9/11 attacks has continued for over 10 years. During that time, Congress has passed laws, including the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act, which gave sweeping new authorities to law enforcement and the intelligence community.

I know we must protect the Nation from future attacks. But there must also be a balance--we cannot give up our constitutional protections in the name of security. I voted against the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act because I believed they were not balanced--they unduly infringed on the guaranteed rights of our citizens.

As I said, we all value the work of our intelligence community. Their efforts are vital to our Nation's security. But, I believe these amendments are crucial. We can protect our citizens without trampling their constitutional rights.

Unfortunately, none of the amendments we voted on yesterday were adopted. But the main argument I heard against them was not on the substance of the amendments. It was that we do not have time to amend the bill and send it back to the House. The Chair and Vice-chair argued that we must pass the House bill without amendment and get it to the President before the provisions expire.

This is not how the ``world's greatest deliberative body'' should function. It is one more example of why we need to reform our rules so that we are not constantly mired in procedural gridlock. Rather than an 11th hour passage of the House bill, we should have had a real opportunity to debate and amend the Senate bill that came out of committee over 5 months ago.

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