Durbin Opposes Telecom Immunity

Reposted from my old blog: I haven’t heard back from Senator Durbin regarding my most recent anti-telecom immunity email. If I do, I’ll be sure to note any interesting language. I wonder if Obama has asked Durbin to dial down his opposition?

Strapped On

Senator Richard Durbin (or more precisely, his staff’s email-bot) just emailed me an interesting response to my inquiry re: the criminal Telecom Immunity bill which I’ve been yammering about for a while.
Here it is, in its entirety (with a few paragraph breaks added for readability. Senator Durbin’s staff took the text-only email dictum a bit too far)

Subject: Message From Senator Durbin
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2007 14:26:50 -0400

November 1, 2007
Mr. Seth Anderson
Dear Mr. Anderson:

Thank you for your message regarding the surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA). I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue and share your concerns. Protecting both the security and the freedom of the American people is among my highest priorities. I share an obligation with my fellow senators to ensure that the federal government protects and defends the people of the United States while preserving the civil liberties that have helped make the United States the greatest and most enduring democracy in the world. President Bush has stated that he authorized the NSA to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance of communications made by American citizens living within the United States.

At the time of the President’s authorization, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) required the government to seek a warrant from a special court in order to conduct electronic surveillance of communications between American citizens and anyone outside the country. The NSA did not obtain approval from the FISA court or from any other court before initiating its domestic surveillance program. For most of its existence, the NSA’s program has operated without meaningful oversight. Few members of Congress were briefed about the program until its existence was revealed by the media, and those members were sworn to secrecy. The majority of the members of Congress still have not been fully briefed about the program’s operational details.

The Administration has also shut down its own Department of Justice internal investigation into the NSA’s program. In essence, the Administration has attempted to operate this program without any supervision or oversight. The lack of a mechanism for correcting potential abuses in the program undermines our Constitutional system of checks and balances and raises serious concerns about the possibility of excessive intrusion. In addition to the disclosure of the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program, it has been alleged that the NSA has undertaken a massive effort to gather the telephone records of tens of millions of innocent Americans into a searchable database. Again, this program has been conducted without court approval or Congressional oversight.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas to the Justice Department, the White House, the Office of the Vice President, and the National Security Council for documents relating to the legal justification for the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program. Although Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the committee, has extended the deadline for subpoena compliance on two separate occasions, the Administration has failed to comply. Congress has tried to work with Administration officials to update FISA in light of technological advances in communications. Too often, however, the Administration has taken advantage of the program’s secrecy in its negotiations with Congress. In Augst 2007, the Administration proposed a bill to amend FISA. I believe the bill provided too much opportunity for excessive intrusion and potential abuse by the NSA and other intelligence officials. I voted against the measure, as did Chairman Leahy and the Intelligence Committee Chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Nonetheless, Congress passed the bill and the President signed it into law. Fortunately, the law will expire six months after the date it was signed. When the President and his Administration order actions such as the surveillance of American citizens, these actions must be conducted in a manner consistent with the rule of law and the Constitution’s commitment to civil liberties. I am deeply concerned about the manner in which the Executive Branch has initiated and conducted the NSA surveillance programs. I will continue to work to ensure that government surveillance of American citizens is conducted in a manner consistent with the Constitution, the rule of law, and our security needs.

Thank you again for sharing your views on this issue with me.

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator RJD/tf

P.S. If you are ever visiting Washington, please feel free to join Senator Obama and me at our weekly constituent coffee. When the Senate is in session, we provide coffee and donuts every Thursday at 8:30 a.m. as we hear what is on the minds of Illinoisans and respond to your questions. We would welcome your participation. Please call my D.C. office for more details.

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