02.11.08

Amendment 3913 On Reverse Targeting

The bill we are now considering will provide an enormous expansion of the government’s ability to conduct warrantless surveillance.  I support providing our intelligence agencies with the flexibility they need to surveil foreign targets that may be intending us harm, but we must be similarly vigilant in making certain that this surveillance is limited to its intended scope.  

I want to commend Senator Feingold in crafting an amendment that would prohibit what is known as “reverse targeting” and would ensure that this new surveillance is directed only toward its overseas targets and not toward surveillance of innocent Americans without a court order.  The Intelligence Committee’s bill, S.2248, requires the government to seek an order from the FISA Court only when “the” purpose of the government’s acquisition is the targeting of Americans inside of the United States.  I fear that the government will read into this language a loophole and it may justify eavesdropping on American’s private communications, without any court order, as long as they have some interest in an overseas “target,” even if a significant purpose of the interception is to collect the communications of a person in the United States.  Is this fear legitimate?  I think so, given this administration’s history of convoluted, disingenuous legal interpretation.  We must be clear in our language, because we know what they will do if we are not. 

Senator Feingold’s provision would clarify that if the government intercepts the communications of a person overseas but “a significant purpose” of the surveillance is to collect the communications of the United States person with whom the person overseas is communicating, the government must get a court order. This is an important distinction.  In light of the sweeping powers we are granting to the government to conduct surveillance without up front court review, we must also cabin the scope of the government’s power to eavesdrop on the communications of innocent Americans.

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