Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) was the only senator who voted against the Patriot Act in 2001. He took a stand against the legislation because it increased the federal government’s authority exponentially and didn’t require enough judicial oversight.
Now here we are more than a decade later and it has been revealed that the U.S. government has been collecting massive amounts of data on millions of Americans every single day, using provisions found in the Patriot Act as justification.
Through the secret “PRISM” surveillance program and court orders compelling at least Verizon to provide records on all its customers, the FBI and NSA have enjoyed access to unthinkable amounts of Americans’ data, all without ever informing the public of alarming domestic surveillance.
In his address on the Senate floor in 2001, Former Sen. Feingold seemingly warned the U.S. about the exact thing so many Americans are outraged over today.
“One provision that troubles me a great deal is a provision that permits the government under FISA to compel the production of records from any business regarding any person, if that information is sought in connection with an investigation of terrorism or espionage,” he said. “Now we’re not talking here about travel records pertaining to a terrorist suspect, which we all can see can be highly relevant to an investigation of a terrorist plot. FISA already gives the FBI the power to get airline, train, hotel, car rental and other records of a suspect.”
“But under this bill, the government can compel the disclosure of the personal records of anyone — perhaps someone who worked with, or lived next door to, or went to school with, or sat on an airplane with, or has been seen in the company of, or whose phone number was called by — the target of the investigation.
And under this new provisions all business records can be compelled, including those containing sensitive personal information like medical records from hospitals or doctors, or educational records, or records of what books someone has taken out of the library. This is an enormous expansion of authority, under a law that provides only minimal judicial supervision.”
We must grant law enforcement the tools that it needs to stop this terrible threat. But we must give them only those extraordinary tools that they need and that relate specifically to the task at hand.
Feingold didn’t gloat or say “I told you so” when his predictions were confirmed this week, but he did release a statement following the Guardian’s bombshell report on the NSA’s spying program.
“In 2001, I first voted against the PATRIOT Act because much of it was simply an FBI wish list that included provisions allowing our government to go on fishing expeditions that collect information on virtually anyone,” the statement read. “Today’s report indicates that the government could be using FISA in an indiscriminate way that does not balance our legitimate concerns of national security with the necessity to preserve our fundamental civil rights.”
“This is deeply troubling. I hope today’s news will renew a serious conversation about how to protect the country while ensuring that the rights of law-abiding Americans are not violated,” he added.
Watch video of Feingold’s 2001 speech at the Huffington Post.
The former senator also appeared on CNN to talk about his concerns with domestic surveillance under the Bush administration as the expiration of the Patriot Act approached (it was renewed by Congress). If the timeline matches, the interview should have been from around 2005.