What Will Al Franken Do About Surveillance in America?

As a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota, Al Franken refused to make any comment about the FISA Amendments Act, a bill which became law while Franken was running for election. The FISA Amendments Act(read text of the law here) legalized a massive electronic operation to spy on the personal communications of millions people without any of the warrants required by the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Despite protestations that no Americans would be spied upon, in actuality huge numbers of Americans’ communications have been snooped upon without warrants, during the Bush and Obama administrations, all under the authority of the FISA Amendments Act.

Senator Al Franken of Minnesota surrounded by Question MarksNow that Al Franken has been elected to and finally seated in the Senate, he has ended up as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a committee that will be meeting this Thursday to mark up a bill extending surveillance authority under the Patriot Act for another four years and revising the surveillance authority of the FISA Amendments Act. Last week, Senator Franken finally showed some indication of his general position regarding
warrantless surveillance, when he pointedly asked a flummoxed Justice Department official how the 4th Amendment could possibly be squared with the practice.

And yet, despite his apparent sympathy with those who would restore 4th Amendment rights in America, Al Franken has not made any formal indication of how he would go about it or how far he would go in the effort to accomplish it. Would Franken go the limited route of Christopher Dodd‘s S. 1725? S. 1725 is a new bill with the limited purpose of removing immunity for telecommunications corporations that broke the law to share your personal information with the government without warrants. Would Senator Franken support the model of S. 1692, Patrick Leahy’s bill that engages in minor reforms of the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act while pushing its major warrantless surveillance and data mining capabilities on for years to come? Or is Al Franken most inclined to support S. 1686, the JUSTICE ACT? The JUSTICE ACT is the bill that contains the strongest set of surveillance reforms of all three bills (see here for a brief summary). We just don’t know.

We don’t know now, but with surveillance bill markup coming on Thursday (just two days from now) we need to know soon. If you are one of Senator Al Franken’s Minnesota constituents and you support 4th Amendment protections against warrantless surveillance of Americans, please consider the following course of action:

1. Educate yourself about S. 1686, the Justice Act (information here, here and here).

2. Call Senator Franken to personally express your desire for him to:
a) Cosponsor S. 1686, the JUSTICE Act
b) Include language

Al Franken’s Washington, DC Office phone number is 202-224-5641. His Minnesota Office phone number is 651-221-101.

3. Tell other Minnesotans about warrantless surveillance and the JUSTICE Act and ask them to get in touch with Senator Franken too.

Remember, there are just two days before the markup of a surveillance bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The resulting bill will take the form most likely to make it out of committee and onto the Senate floor. The sooner you can get in touch with Senator Franken and make your feelings plain, the better.

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