Senators Push for FISA Bill with more Oversight, without Telecom Immunity

14 Senators Urge Majority Leader to Take Up Senate Judiciary Committee Version of FISA Bill

Washington DC - As the Senate prepares to consider legislation to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a group of senators is urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make the FISA bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) the base bill to be considered on the Senate floor. The SJC bill makes significant improvements to the FISA bill that was reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It enhances judicial oversight of broad new surveillance authorities, contains protections for innocent Americans, and does not provide immunity to telecom companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. The Senators expressing their support for the SJC FISA bill in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid are Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Barack Obama (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Joe Biden (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Jim Webb (D-VA), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

"The Judiciary Committee FISA bill fixes many of the flaws of the surveillance law we enacted in August and the new bill approved by the Intelligence Committee. Everyone agrees that we should give our intelligence officials the tools they need to go after suspected terrorists. There's no reason we can't do that while still protecting the privacy of innocent Americans and ensuring adequate oversight of these broad new surveillance authorities -- and without setting the dangerous precedent of granting retroactive immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an unlawful program," Senator Feingold said.

"Of course we have to do everything we can to protect the American people, but we must fight international terrorism in a way that is consistent with our Constitution and the Bill of Rights," Senator Bernie Sanders said.

"I strongly urge the Majority Leader to take up the Judiciary Committee's version of the FISA legislation. It is absolutely essential that as the Senate begins debating reforms to FISA we do not include retroactive immunity provisions for telecommunications companies that may have engaged in illegal conduct. Additionally, the Judiciary Committee's version of the FISA legislation contains much stronger safeguards which will serve to protect Americans against the President's warantless wiretapping program," Senator Dodd said.

"The Judiciary Committee bill restores oversight and accountability to the FISA program without unnecessarily providing retroactive immunity to companies that cooperated with the Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. It is my hope that this bill will be considered by the full Senate," Senator Obama said.

"I believe that the bill reported out of the Judiciary Committee strikes the healthiest balance between protecting our national security interests and safeguarding the basic civil and constitutional rights of American citizens," said Senator Webb. "The Judiciary Committee bill also remains silent on immunity for the telecommunications companies, which is appropriate. If there is a compelling case for immunity, Senators supporting it will have the opportunity to make their case on the Senate floor."

"Congress must enact a FISA bill that will produce needed intelligence, protect the privacy of Americans and respect the rule of law. The bill reported out of the Judiciary Committee does those things without undermining the structure of FISA and the rule of law by giving retroactive immunity to phone companies that may have illegally invaded the privacy of millions of Americans," Senator Kennedy said.

A copy of the letter is available at