S. 1686, the JUSTICE Act, is a bill that would begin to undo the damage to civil liberty wrought by the USA Patriot ACT and the FISA Amendments Act. The bill, introduced last week by Senator Russell Feingold, adds a number of checks on executive power: S. 1686, if passed, would:
* Restrict information collected in warrantless National Security Letters to information about the structure of interaction between individuals. Information about the content of interaction could not be collected without a warrant. Current law allows the government to seize the content of your interactions without a warrant.
* Restrict material collected. Those warrantless National Security Letters could only collect information 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. Current law allows the government to spy on people who know people who know people … (ad infinitum) … who know a suspect, all without a warrant.
* Protect free speech. If S. 1686 is passed, people will not be made the target of NSLs solely on the basis of political statements made in exercise of free speech. Under current law, people can be put under surveillance because they make unpopular political statements.
* Require specificity in requests. NSLs and electronic surveillance must be specifically targeted and be time-limited in duration. Under current law, they need not be, even though the 4th Amendment to the Constitution declares that they must be.
* Mandate reports to the Congress and the American public about patterns in the use of National Security Letters and electronic surveillance. Current law does not require these reports.
* Introduce the right of some judicial review for the targets of National Security Letters and electronic surveillance and for the corporations and individuals who are told to help the government spy on people without warrants. Current law provides little to no such judicial review.
* Require that information collected in contravention of the law be destroyed. Current law allows illegally collected information to be kept by the government.
* Revoke retroactive immunity for telecommunications corporations that broke the law to give the government Americans’ private information. Current law immunizes corporations that broke the law and violated your privacy.
* Forbid the “bulk collection” of all communication between the United States and the rest of the world, along with “reverse targeting,” which is the surveillance of foreigners in order to spy without warrants on the Americans they communicate with. Under current law, bulk collection and reverse targeting are allowed to occur.
These are just the highlights. To get a fuller idea of the scope of S. 1686, read the bill for yourself.
S. 1686 is an imperfect bill because it doesn’t fix everything that’s wrong with the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act, and yet it is the strongest civil liberties bill before the Congress today because it proposes the most extensive reforms, moving us most strongly back toward individuals’ freedom from government prerogative.
If the JUSTICE Act is to be passed into law, it’s going to need more support than it has currently mustered. As of today, only 10 Senators have signed on in support of S. 1686:
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) — principal sponsor
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)
If your two Senators aren’t on that list, I urge you to give them a call and ask them to cosponsor S. 1686. But for efficiency’s sake, particular attention should be paid to the following senators. These are the members of the United States Senate who voted against the FISA Amendments Act in 2008, but haven’t cosponsored the legislation to roll its provisions back. Ask them to hop back on board the Civil Liberty Express by cosponsorsing S. 1686:
Senator Barbara Boxer of California. DC Office Phone: 202-224-3553
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. DC Office Phone: 202-224-2315
Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. DC Office Phone: 202-224-3954
Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State. DC Office Phone: 202-224-3441
Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland. DC Office Phone: 202-224-4524
Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. DC Office Phone: 202-224-2823
Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. DC Office Phone: 202-224-2551
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. DC Office Phone: 202-224-3254
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. DC Office Phone: 202-224-2742
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. DC Office Phone: 202-224-3244
Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. DC Office Phone: 202-224-3224
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. DC Office Phone: 202-224-4242
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan. DC Office Phone: 202-224-6221
Senator Patty Murray of Washington State. DC Office Phone: 202-224-2621
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. DC Office Phone: 202-224-4642
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. DC Office Phone: 202-224-3542
Senator Charles Schumer of New York. DC Office Phone: 202-224-6542
Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. DC Office Phone: 202-224-4822