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Here is the email I received today from Claire McCaskill regarding the FISA and telecom immunity. I contacted her a few weeks ago by phone and email. Below is my response, I hope making her and my emails public it will shed some more light on this issue.
Dear Mr. Williams: Thank you for contacting me regarding efforts to revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, also known as FISA. I appreciate hearing from you, and I welcome the opportunity to respond. On February 12, 2008, after months of debate, the Senate passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2007 (S.2248) by a vote of 68-29. I voted in favor of this effort to modernize the 30-year-old FISA in order to allow us to effectively monitor terrorist communications overseas. As the FISA Amendments Act was debated on the Senate floor, I voted in favor of three amendments introduced by Senator Feingold (D-WI), all of which sought to add further safeguards against Executive Branch surveillance on innocent Americans. Unfortunately, these amendments failed to garner enough votes to pass. However, the Senate-passed FISA Amendments Act does include several measures to improve our national security without violating the constitutionally protected privacy rights and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans. For example, it would require the government to obtain a warrant whenever the target of surveillance is a U.S. citizen as well as bolster the authority of the FISA courts to oversee the eavesdropping activities of the National Security Agency. As you may know, I joined 18 other Democrats in voting against Senator Dodd’s (D-CT) amendment to remove provisions granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies (telecoms) that cooperated with the Bush Administration’s wiretapping program. Please keep in mind that this is a limited immunity that applies solely to the telecoms, not the government. I just don’t think we should punish these companies for their good-faith reliance on government assurances that they were assisting in a legal effort to combat terrorism. If the government violated our surveillance laws by eavesdropping without the necessary warrants, then it is the Administration – not the telecoms – that needs to be held accountable. That’s why I supported Senator Specter’s (R-PA) amendment, which would have substituted the federal government in place of telecoms as the defendant in lawsuits, allowing existing legal actions to move forward in an appropriate manner. While this measure was rejected, the underlying legislation would still allow citizens to sue the government for past violations and telecoms for future violations of the new law. As your United States Senator, I remain determined to get to the bottom of any government misconduct. Currently, the Senate-passed FISA legislation needs to be reconciled with the House-passed version. I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind as Congress continues to debate this important issue. Again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future regarding other matters of interest or concern to you. All best, Senator Claire McCaskill
Here is my response:
Thanks for your email regarding the FISA bill. I understand your argument regarding telecom immunity but humbly disagree. I am concerned that giving immunity sets a precedent that the executive branch can tell corporations what they need and the corporations will automatically get a trump card against any law suits should they give the executive branch what they asked for. There are two issues here, one, the executive branch needs more oversight from the legislative. I hope that the bill proposed will do this. Two, corporations should consider the legality of their actions before taking them regardless of who is asking. The latter is something that this immunity directly effects, giving immunity allows them to act without thinking about the ethical and legal issues surround the actions. From what I understand (http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-05-10-nsa_x.htm) Qwest communications was the only telecom to not comply according to the mentioned article "it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants". This type of protection of customer data should be commended and I wish the other telcoms would have done the same. Lastly, as a consumer and citizen I believe that the wiretaps need to be investigated. Since everyones data (internet usage, email and phone services) was effected by these wiretaps we should know, as owners of that data, the extent of this operation. I hope this finds you in good health and spirits. Thank you for taking the time to listen to a constituent. -Joseph Williams
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