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Public Statements

FISA Amendments Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I am disappointed that the Senate has rejected several commonsense improvements to the Intelligence Committee's FISA proposal. I commend my colleagues, Senators Dodd, Feingold, Tester, Webb, Whitehouse, Leahy, Specter and others, for proposing these solutions, and I welcome the outpouring of interest on this issue from informed and concerned citizens around the country.

News last week from the Intelligence Committee hearing underscored the importance of ensuring that our surveillance laws protect our security, just as we must vigilantly safeguard our civil liberties. Director of National Intelligence McConnell warned that al-Qaida continues to train and recruit new adherents to attack within the United States, and such reports should serve to unite us in common purpose against the terrorists that threaten our homeland. Instead, President Bush is using this debate once again to divide us through a politics of fear.

I was disappointed to learn of the President's threat to veto any FISA bill that does not include an unprecedented grant of immunity for telephone companies that cooperated with the President's warrantless wiretapping program. Why the President continues to try to hold this important legislation captive to that special interest provision defies explanation.

I was proud to cosponsor the Dodd-Feingold amendment to strike the immunity provision from the bill. However, with the defeat of this amendment, telephone companies will not be held accountable even if it could be proven that they clearly and knowingly broke the law and nullified the privacy rights of Americans. This is a matter for the courts to decide, not for preemptive action by the Senate.

We can give our intelligence and law enforcement community the powers they need to track down and take out terrorists without undermining our commitment to the rule of law or our basic rights and liberties. That is why I cosponsored the Feingold amendment, which would have prevented the Government from using these extraordinary warrantless powers to conduct ``bulk collection'' of American information. I also supported the Feingold-Webb-Tester amendment to protect the privacy of Americans' communications by requiring court orders to monitor American communications on American soil, unless there is reason to believe that the communications involve terrorist activities directed at the United States or the monitoring is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm. Unfortunately, these amendments were defeated as well. These are the types of narrowly tailored, commonsense fixes that would have allowed the Government to conduct surveillance without sacrificing our precious civil liberties.

For over 6 years since the attacks of 9/11, this administration has approached issues related to terrorism as opportunities to use fear to advance ideological policies and political agendas. It is time for this politics of fear to end.

We need durable tools in this fight against terrorism--tools that protect the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. We are trying to protect the American people, not special interests like the telecommunications industry. We are trying to ensure that we don't sacrifice our liberty in pursuit of security, and it is past time for the administration to join us in that effort.

There is no need for the goals of security and liberty to be contradictory.


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