Letter from Senator Schumer in response to opposition to NSA spying activities

Dear Dr. Bearden:
Thank you for contacting me to express your opposition to the recent revelations about the work of the National Security Agency. I share your concerns about protecting civil liberties while still keeping America safe.

Twelve years after September 11th, our country has made great strides to prevent another terrorist attack against Americans at home and abroad, but it is critical that these efforts do not come at the cost of the freedoms and liberties we cherish. Recent reports of NSA surveillance and data collection programs have caused us all to take a serious look at our laws and regulations, many of which were enacted in the aftermath of that horrible tragedy to prevent such an attack from happening again. While the intentions of these NSA programs are to protect American lives, we must balance that objective with protection of citizens’ basic rights to due process, the presumption of innocence and privacy.

We have always sought to strike a balance between security and liberty in America; we need the government to protect us while at the same time respecting our privacy and civil liberties. I have three rules in these discussions of security and liberty when it comes to the surveillance programs at issue. First, there should be an open discussion and debate about them in Congress. Policies this profound should not be decided unilaterally by any administration. Second, there should be clear rules established that the government has to obey. Third, there ought to be an independent arbiter, like a judge, that makes sure these rules are being obeyed.

Once the arbiter makes rulings on these issues, they should be released to the public for review — so long as their release would not jeopardize our national security. Currently, because of the secrecy of the FISA Court, the public has no way to judge whether or not it is effectively enforcing the rules established by Congress. Therefore, I believe we need more transparency and accountability in the FISA Court. That’s why I am cosponsoring the Ending Secret Law Act (S.1130), legislation that would require the Attorney General to declassify these rulings and make them available to the public, so long as they do not jeopardize national security. A debate over making the FISA Court orders public would help answer questions about whether the NSA programs are legal and effective. For instance, right now no one knows how the FISA Court is interpreting critical legal principles and precedents. Understanding these rulings will help us to determine whether these programs are necessary or go too far. If the decisions of the FISA Court were available to the public, one could more effectively discern if they’re being an effective arbiter.

I will continue to very closely examine the NSA surveillance programs to discern how we can craft better oversight. If additional legislation is necessary to revise these programs, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that the safety of our country does not come at the sacrifice of our guiding Constitutional principles.

Thank you for contacting me about this important issue. Please feel free to contact me in the future if I can be of further assistance on this or any other matter.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

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