S. Amdt. 3979, the Feingold-Webb-Tester Sequestration Amendmen

I support providing the government with the flexibility it needs to conduct important surveillance of overseas targets.  Both the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee’s versions of this bill would allow the government to intercept all communications of overseas targets, including those communications with people inside of the United States.  However, this also means that the government will necessarily be acquiring the communications of innocent Americans. 

I want to commend Senators Feingold, Webb, and Tester for crafting an amendment that will help to safeguard the privacy rights of innocent Americans whose communications are acquired during the surveillance of overseas targets.  This new FISA legislation will grant the government authority to conduct surveillance on overseas targets concerning “foreign intelligence.”  This term covers a broad range of subjects and the new authority would permit the government great latitude to intercept communications without a court order. Once Americans’ communications are collected, they can be shared widely with other agencies.  This Feingold-Webb-Tester provision permits unfettered acquisition of foreign-to-foreign communications and of communications of suspected terrorists into or out of the United States while creating safeguards for communications not related to terrorism that the government knows have one end in the United States.  If the government is not able to determine beforehand whether a communication will be into or out of the United States, it can acquire all of those communications without prior court approval.  What this amendment does is add the very reasonable protection that if it is later determined that a communication involves a person in the United States, measures will be taken to segregate that information to assure that privacy is protected appropriately.  There are exceptions even then to make sure that national security is never placed at risk.  If the communication involves terrorism or a suspected terrorist, if someone’s safety is at stake, the government can then access, analyze and disseminate that communication. 

This amendment is an important check to ensure that the new authority we will grant with this bill is used as intended.  Without it, many law-abiding Americans who communicate with completely innocent people overseas will be swept up in this new form of surveillance, with virtually no judicial involvement or oversight. 

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