Last week, ten Senators introduced legislation that would begin to undo the damage to constitutional liberty inflicted by the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. S. 1686, given the acronym of the JUSTICE Act, is a long bill; the following is a summary of its most central provisions:
Revisions to the Patriot Act
National Security Letters, demands for information about people issued without constitutional warrants, are restricted by S. 1686 to information about the structure of interaction between individuals (who is communicating with whom, and with what contact information), not about the content of that interaction (what books someone is reading, what a person has to say about the president). Under S. 1686, such records may only be collected regarding a person who is a suspected agent of a foreign power, a subject of an ongoing national security investigation, or is in some direct contact with either of the two. People may not be investigated via NSLs solely on the basis of political statements made in exercise of free speech. NSLs must be specific in their request for records and be time-limited in their duration. Records of NSL use must be kept and provided on a regular basis to the U.S. Congress for purposes of oversight; statistical summaries of NSL use must be provided in regular reports available to the public. Judicial review of National Security Letters, with guaranteed access to attorneys for parties wishing to challenge NSLs, is provided for the first time. If resulting information is to be used in a criminal prosecution, the target must be given the right to challenge the admissibility of that information as evidence. And if information about an individual is obtained erroneously, it must be destroyed.
“Sneak and peek” activities that intrude upon people’s property and effects without notice would not be broadly permitted for criminal investigations, and authorizations for such activities would be placed on time limits.
Revisions to the FISA Amendments Act
Warrantless orders for electronic surveillance would be brought closer to constitutionality with the requirement for names and phones of targets to be specified before “roving wiretaps” begin. S. 1686 would revoke retroactive immunity for telecommunications corporations that broke the law to give the government Americans’ private information. The “bulk collection” of all communication between the United States and the rest of the world (which was authorized by the FISA Amendments Act) would be forbidden. The targeting of foreigners in order to collect communications by Americans (“reverse targeting”) would also be forbidden. Some limited right of court challenge against electronic surveillance programs would be re-introduced. Finally, additional public reporting on statistics regarding warrantless wiretapping is provided for.
Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) is the primary author and sponsor of this bill. Click here to read his remarks on the bill, taken from the Congressional Record of September 17, 2009. As of today, S. 1686 has nine additional cosponsors. They are:
Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii
Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois
Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey
Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont
Senator Jon Tester of Montana
Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon
If you support the reform of national surveillance laws to move the United States of America closer to alignment with its own Constitution, and if your state’s two senators do not appear on this list of supporters, please find their contact information and make a phone call today, urging them to cosponsor S. 1686.