U.S. Sen. Tom Udall Calls For Congress To End Mass Telephone Surveillance, Reform Patriot Act

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall urged Congress to oppose a straight reauthorization of several expiring provisions of the Patriot Act and restore Americans’ privacy rights by ending the government’s dragnet collection of phone records.

The Patriot Act provisions — including Section 215, which has been used to justify bulk collection of Americans’ phone records — expire at the end of the month, and Congress is currently debating reforms that would require greater oversight, transparency, and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance. 

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“I strongly believe that we should not force through a reauthorization of the Patriot Act without a hard look at the long-term ramifications of the law,” Udall said. “We must look at how the law is being used, for things like the collection of all Americans’ phone records. And we must consider whether that use is necessary to keep us safe — and whether it is in line with the constitutional rights we are sworn to uphold and protect.” 

Wednesday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act, which ends the bulk phone records program. Udall said in his speech that he supports the goals of the bill, but he wants to make it stronger by increasing oversight of the intelligence communities to protect Americans’ constitutional rights.

“I know we must protect the nation from future attacks,” Udall continued. “But, there must also be a balance. We cannot give up our constitutional protections in the name of security.” 

Udall has long pushed for reforms that would balance national security with Americans’ constitutional rights, including two bills to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts. He has also led a bipartisan push to ask for an independent investigation of these programs by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and has introduced legislation to strengthen the board’s ability to conduct robust oversight of the intelligence community.

Below are Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

I rise today to express my longstanding concerns about the Patriot Act. And in particular Section 215 — which is set to expire on June 1. 

A major use of this section — the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records — has just been ruled illegal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. If we didn’t already have enough concern about reauthorizing Section 215, this decision should raise alarm bells. 

And yet the Majority Leader is asking us to act quickly to reauthorize this law — unchanged — for another five years.

Without significant reforms to the law, I cannot support an extension of any length of time. And I urge my colleagues to listen to the court. And listen to the numerous oversight groups from within the administration, and the millions of citizens who are all saying that Congress needs to rethink whether this program is violating our rights in the name of keeping us safe.

You know Ben Franklin was very fond of saying, “those who give up liberty in the name of security deserve neither.” That’s where we are today.

Congress passed the Patriot Act over a decade ago, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Our nation was devastated. Our security was at stake. But, this legislation was hasty. It was far-reaching. And it undermined the constitutional right to privacy of law-abiding citizens.  

It still does. I have made my opposition clear over the years since 2001.

The major advocates of this law — primarily former President Bush and his key national security officials — used a potent combination of fear and patriotism to drive this bill through.

I was one of only 66 members to vote against the Patriot Act in the House of Representatives. 

I also voted against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2006 — and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.  

In 2011, I once again opposed the extension of three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act: roving wiretaps, government access to “any tangible items” such as library and business records, and the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group. 

Back in 2001, I said on the House floor that I was “unable to support this bill because it does not strike the right balance between protecting our liberties and providing for the security of our citizens.” 

I went on to say that “the saving grace here is that the sunset provision forces us to come back and to look at these issues again when heads are cooler and when we are not in the heat of battle.”

And that is exactly what we should do. To govern in a post-9/11 world, we have to strike the right balance to fight terrorism without trampling our Constitution. We can do both. The Bill of Rights was established immediately following a war.  

Our founders knew the tension between freedom and security. Our nation was founded on the right of individual liberty — in stark contrast to the long tradition of total sovereign authority of most other governments.

I strongly believe that we should not force through a reauthorization of the Patriot Act without a hard look at the long-term ramifications of the law. 

We must look at how the law is being used, for things like the collection of all Americans’ phone records. 

And we must consider whether that use is necessary to keep us safe. And whether it is in line with the constitutional rights we are sworn to uphold and protect. 

Mr. President, I urge our colleagues not to be swayed by the false argument — that this provision must be reauthorized urgently. That we will be vulnerable to attack if we let it expire.

Here is the reality. This provision is being used to sweep up the phone calls of all Americans across this country. Yet there is zero conclusive evidence that it has kept us safe from attack.

What we do have, however, is ample evidence that the Patriot Act section 215 has been used to violate the privacy of everyday Americans. I believe it has violated the Constitution.

I certainly agree with the Federal Appeals Court — which last week ruled that the bulk phone records program goes far beyond what Congress intended when the law was passed. 

We have a decade of hindsight. Let’s be honest in this debate. And let’s be thorough. The entire law bears careful scrutiny. 

Senators Lee and Leahy have introduced the USA Freedom Act to reform the law, while reauthorizing the expiring provisions. I commend their efforts — but I think we can go even further. The House also overwhelmingly passed its version of the Freedom Act just yesterday. It deserves Senate consideration. 

Congress has a duty for robust oversight. To ensure real constitutional privacy rights are upheld. I have pushed for this from when I was in the House. 

I advocated then for the creation of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. 

In June 2013 — after details about the NSA’s bulk collection program were made public — I led a bipartisan call for the PCLOB to conduct an independent review. Their review assessed the impact of the NSA’s spying program — on Americans’ constitutional rights and civil liberties.

The Board concluded what many Americans have feared. One, the spying program is an unconstitutional intrusion on their privacy rights. 

And, two, it has had almost no impact on their safety. 

The Board’s oversight role is crucial. Its independent evaluation of Section 215 demonstrates why. It has an important job — and it requires more support — so it can do its job. 

That is why — yesterday — Senator Wyden and I reintroduced the “Strengthening Privacy, Oversight, and Transparency,” or SPOT, Act. Our bill — with bipartisan sponsors in the House — would strengthen the Board. This is key to real oversight and should be included as part of any reauthorization of the Patriot Act. 

The SPOT Act expands the Board’s authority to play a watchdog role over surveillance conducted for purposes beyond counterterrorism. It also allows the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to issue subpoenas without having to wait for the Justice Department to issue them. And makes the Board members full-time positions. 

Finally, it makes the Board an authorized recipient for whistleblower complaints for employees in the intelligence community. So they can take concerns to an independent organization — one that understands 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. To do so does not protect our Constitution — and does not increase our security. 

We need to have a serious debate about these issues and allow senators to offer amendments. This is important to the American people — to our security and to our liberties. Congress cannot just leave town — and leave this work undone. 

I voted against the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act because they unduly infringed on the guaranteed rights of our citizens. I believe that time has shown that to be true. And the time has come to correct it. 

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 — and their constitutional rights. 

We acted in haste before. It was a mistake then. And it would be a mistake now to approve a straight reauthorization of that law. We need to take the time — this time — to get it right.


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