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An Open Letter to Senator Feinstein

Deploring Her Persistent Denial of the

Current Crisis in Surveillance Policy

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The letter is from California voters.

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SUMMARY

We, the constituents of Senator Dianne Feinstein, are dismayed and embarrassed by her decision to defend unconstitutional surveillance. As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is required to oversee data surveillance to protect her constituents and all Americans. Instead, she has decided to use this moment of crisis to expand surveillance powers to include all bulk data collection. Feinstein has betrayed our trust and support that has sustained her for decades. To regain that trust, she must make amends by resigning as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and withdrawing her NSA legalization bill.

THE LETTER

Dear Senator Dianne Feinstein,

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, write to you today to express our profound concern and outrage at your attempt to codify unconstitutional privacy violations by the National Security Agency (NSA) with the so-called FISA Improvements Act (S.1631). We demand that you withdraw the bill in its entirety and support legitimate legislation to bring the NSA and all other federal agencies engaged in data collection and surveillance into compliance with the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, your failure to meaningfully act on this issue has left us no choice but to demand your resignation from the chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee because you have demonstrated a complete lack of accountability to the people who elected you to represent them.

The FISA Improvements Act Is A Complete Failure

The bill you have proposed to address these constitutional violations is wholly inadequate. It subverts the Constitution by effectively legalizing the conduct of the NSA. The spying operations of the NSA and other domestic intelligence gathering agencies have chilled First Amendment freedoms of speech and association at home and wounded the United States' reputation abroad. We oppose the FISA Improvements Act for the following reasons:

  1. Section 1(a)(6)(B) fails to improve Congressional oversight over the FISC. The mere reporting of FISC activities does nothing to provide a meaningful check on FISC authority.
  2. Section 3(1)(C) needlessly increases criminal penalties for already illegal conduct as a cowardly reaction to the government whistleblowing that has brought disgrace to your position as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
  3. Section 6(m)(1) expressly legalizes the practice of bulk data collection against U.S. citizens in clear violation of the principles outlined in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
  4. Section 6(m)(3)(B) expands bulk data collection authority beyond the National Security Agency (NSA) and permits any query for "law enforcement purposes."
  5. Section 12(a)(3)(A)(i) fails to provide meaningful reporting of FISC determinations by maintaining the practice of requiring a report only if the FISC makes "novel or significant interpretation of law." [1]

The FISA Improvements Act is not the kind of law the American people expect of the elected representatives tasked with protecting our interests and defending the Constitution. It fails on its own premise of regulating the practice of bulk data collection. We demand that you immediately abandon the bill and consider other legislation that meaningfully confronts the threats to American civil liberties posed by the intelligence community.

The FISA Improvements Act Is Particularly Weak Given The Existence Of More Meaningful Legislation

Other bills have been introduced in Congress that address the topic of unconstitutional government spying. Senator Leahy and Congressman Sensenbrenner have authored the USA Freedom Act (S.1599). This bill effectively confronts the threat bulk data collection presents to constitutionally protected privacy rights. Unlike the FISA Improvements Act, the USA Freedom Act presents an enforceable ban on the bulk data collection of domestic communications. It does not merely render the practice legal, as your bill does.

The USA Freedom Act creates a body specifically tasked with protecting privacy with appellate authority to challenge FISC warrants. This Act also makes FISC reporting mandatory, increasing Congress's ability to conduct oversight and making the decisions of the Court transparent and accountable to the people.

By contrast, the FISA Improvements Act does none of this. It includes distractions such as a specific provision further criminalizing the unauthorized disclosure of FISC holdings, conduct that is already illegal. The inclusion of this provision demonstrates a petty attempt to stifle the kind of whistleblowing that brought public awareness to the constitutional violations of the NSA. The FISA Improvements Act will continue to allow the FISC to operate in total secrecy, it will legalize domestic spying and it will continue to erode our country's ability to effectuate meaningful diplomacy abroad by compromising longstanding diplomatic relationships, with allies like Germany.

We Demand Your Resignation As Chair Of The Senate Intelligence Committee

As the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee you are tasked with providing "vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States[2]." In this capacity, you have failed your country. Under your watch the NSA has shredded the Constitution by engaging in bulk data collection and spying on American people, on American soil. Your failure to act in your capacity as chair of the only committee tasked with overseeing federal intelligence programs has enabled these constitutional violations to continue. Your resignation is essential towards rebuilding the collapsed credibility of the oversight committee that is supposed to keep the intelligence community accountable.

Conclusion

For the above-mentioned reasons, we reiterate our demands that you:

  1. Withdraw the FISA Improvements Act
  2. Resign as Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee

Without real action on your part, you will have shown voters that you are unaccountable, lack transparency and believe yourself beyond the influence of those who democratically elected you to represent their best interest.

Respectfully,

Organizations: sign the letter using this link.

Also signed by some Californians.

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