Text of FISA constituent letter from Senator Dick Durbin

Text of constituent reply letter on FISA Amendments Act of 2008 from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL):


July 25, 2008 [Nijma][address] Dear Ms. [Nijma]: Thank you for your message regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). 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. We must ensure that the federal government defends the people of the United States from external threats while preserving the civil liberties that have helped make the United States the greatest and most enduring democracy in the world. On July 9, 2008, the Senate passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (H.R. 6304) which I opposed, and the President signed the measure into law the following day. On the positive side, the legislation establishes clearer protections for Americans, including the requirement that all electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens – both inside and outside the United States – be approved by the FISA Court. Information obtained about Americans can only be used for proper intelligence or law enforcement purposes, and the procedures for using information obtained about Americans must be approved annually by the FISA court. However, central to the debate on this legislation was the issue of whether or not telecommunications companies that participated in illegal surveillance should receive retroactive immunity from prosecution. I opposed retroactive immunity for these companies and supported an amendment to the Act that would have prevented them from obtaining immunity retroactively. The amendment was unsuccessful. After the amendment failed, I voted against the final bill, but it passed by a vote of 69-28. While I still oppose immunity for the telecommunications companies, it is my hope that the other provisions of this new legislation will strengthen the protection of American citizens so that electronic surveillance is conducted in a manner consistent with the rule of law and the Constitution’s commitment to civil liberties. Thank you again for contacting me. Please feel free to keep in touch. Sincerely, Richard J. Durbin United States Senator RJD/td P.S. If you are ever visiting Washington, please feel free to join me and other members of the Illinois Congressional delegation 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.


Comment on letter:

The big talking point here is opposition to telecom immunity–I have pointed out before that the fourth amendment is not very talkable, especially in brief or casual conversations, in spite of the outrage in the blogosphere on the subject, although Durbin does mention rule of law and civil liberties. Echoing Obama’s hints of a quid pro quo, Durbin has hope that “other provisions of this new legislation will strengthen the protection of American citizens” without enumerating what provisions he agrees with.

Obama, who voted against Senator Dodd’s filibuster and for the FISA bill, said the bill “provides an important tool to fight the war on terrorism and provides for an Inspectors General report so that we can finally get to the bottom of the warrantless wiretapping program and how it undermined our civil liberties.”

My prediction is that the report to congress required by this legislation will trigger a new round of public debate on the subject, this time under a new president who might feel less inclined to defend business as usual and a little tired at having to continuously defend it in the face of continuing public pressure.

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