Murkowski Backs Effort to Reel in Government Surveillance

Senator Co-Sponsors Bipartisan Legislation to Boost Privacy Rights, Raise Bar for Transparency

Senator Lisa Murkowski today announced her co-sponsorship of the USA FREEDOM Act – a bill designed to curb efforts by the federal government to gain access to millions of Americans’ phone records, while also requiring greater oversight, transparency and accountability of domestic surveillance authorities.  The bipartisan legislation – backed by both the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union – would curb potential privacy abuses and protect every American’s basic civil liberties.

“Alaskans believe the government has no business snooping around our property, our library books, or who we call on our home phones or cell phones — and that our privacy rights are guaranteed by the Constitution,” said Murkowski.  “I believe that Americans deserve the strongest defense possible from evolving foreign threats, but I have been extremely wary of the federal government’s seemingly dragnet approach to gathering personal information.  Just because the government possesses the technology making such data collection possible doesn’t mean they should do so.”

The USA FREEDOM Act would rein in the collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and ensure that other authorities cannot be used to justify a similar approach. The bill also provides more safeguards for warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act.

The bill includes other significant privacy and oversight provisions, provides for the creation of a Special Advocate to focus on the protection of privacy rights and civil liberties before the FISA Court, and requires more detailed public reporting about the numbers and types of FISA orders that are issued.

For the past decade, Senator Murkowski has urged Congress to rethink federal surveillance policies and address concerns about the potential infringement of civil liberties – beginning a decade of privacy rights vigilance on behalf of Alaskans/

Senator Murkowski’s track record on surveillance efforts:

  • Senator Murkowski was hailed as a “thoughtful conservative” in July of 2003, when she introduced revisions to the laws regulating electronic surveillance.  In doing so, she gained the support and praise of both the American Conservative Union and the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • In 2005, she co-sponsored the Security and Freedom Enhancement Act to amend the PATRIOT Act. During debate over the PATRIOT Act reauthorization in 2006, Murkowski joined with five other Senators in a bipartisan effort to safeguard civil liberties protections.
  • In February 2011, Murkowski voted for a three-month extension of three expiring PATRIOT Act provisions in order to allow members of Congress to propose amendments and reforms, but was disappointed when the Senate did not use this added time to thoughtfully weigh the pros and cons of extending these provisions and other reforms. At the end of the three months in May, a vote was held to extend the provisions for four years without having fully debated the merits or allowing amendments, at which point Murkowski voted against the extension for that long of a period.
  • In December, she was one of three Republicans to vote against a five-year extension on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Authorization bill, saying “giving up some privacy for some security has never made Alaskans comfortable.”
  • Senator Lisa Murkowski peppered the Director of National Intelligence in a June letter with questions from a bipartisan group of 25 other Senators about the bulk collection of personal information.

The bill was introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT)  and also co-sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dean Heller (R-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Begich (D-AK), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).  A companion bill in the House of Representatives has more than 70 bipartisan cosponsors.