Sign-on Letter to Senators Leahy, Grassley and Specter Urging Support for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Reporting Act of 2003

February 25, 2003
Honorable Patrick J. Leahy
Senate Judiciary Committee
433 Russell Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510

Honorable Charles E. Grassley
Senate Judiciary Committee
135 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510

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Honorable Arlen Specter
Senate Judiciary Committee
711 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senators Leahy, Grassley and Specter:

We write in support of the Domestic Surveillance Oversight Act of 2003.  The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorizes secret wiretaps and secret searches of the homes and offices of Americans and other forms of data gathering for national security reasons.  While the initial enactment of FISA was an appropriate accommodation of national security interests and individual rights to privacy and due process, since its initial enactment FISA has been expanded in ways that pose an increased threat to individual rights.  Moreover, FISA surveillance authorities are now being used more and more; indeed, it appears that the federal government carries out more electronic surveillance under the authority of FISA than under criminal rules.  

Given the absolute secrecy of FISA searches and seizures, mechanisms for public accountability are crucial to protect rights of privacy - as well as to insure effective and efficient use of this extraordinary authority.  Your bill to require public accounting of the number of US persons subjected to surveillance under FISA, the number of times FISA information is used for law enforcement purposes, and to require disclosure of other information would be an important step in providing for oversight and public scrutiny of these extraordinary powers.

Disclosure of such information is important to informing the American public and will not be harmful to the national security, as it will not give any greater clues as to who is being targeted, or the scope of the anti-terrorism efforts than is already known from the Justice Department's own extensive public descriptions of those efforts.             

We commend you on your leadership on this issue and look forward to working with you and your colleagues to achieve appropriate policies for responding to terrorism and other national security threats.

Laura W. Murphy, Director
ACLU Washington National Office

Timothy H. Edgar, Legislative Counsel
ACLU Washington National Office

James X. Dempsey, Executive Director
Center for Democracy and Technology

Kate Martin, Director
Center for National Security Studies

Morton H. Halperin, Director
Open Society Policy Center

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