By: Harry Waisbren
We are making some major progress on our new open letter to President Obama. However, this is a crowdsourced effort, and we are seeking out as much input on it as we can!
Make sure to let us know what you think of this open letter and/or what you would do differently. We suggest posting any ideas/suggestions/edits/anything else in the comments of this blog post or through any other communication method you prefer.
We had a short conference call earlier to go over the letter, and Amy mentioned that our last blog post like this one about the open letter was what inspired her to begin working with us in the first place. It’s quite gratifying to hear that, and I know that the more participation we get the greater degree to which such positive impressions about this effort will be proven true!
Update: Below you’ll find our current version–thanks to Amy, Jim, and Jon for their editing tonight!
Dear President Obama,
In July 2008, in your response to our previous open letter, you committed to have your Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all current surveillance programs while making further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse. You also told us of your intent as President to run “a White House that takes the Constitution seriously, conducts the peoples’ business out in the open, welcomes and listens to dissenting views, and asks you to play your part in shaping our country’s destiny.”
With USA PATRIOT Act and FISA reform once again before Congress, now is the perfect time to follow through on this commitment.
Two bills that were the subject of Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee Patriot Act hearing specifically deserve your attention and support. HR 3845 contains a substantial number of significant new checks and balances to the government’s spying authorities under the PATRIOT Act. HR 3846 would prohibit the “bulk collection” of Americans’ emails and phone calls under the FISA Amendments Act, and it would repeal the Fisa Amendment Act’s telecommunication immunity provision — a provision that you voted to repeal as a Senator.
When Senators Feingold and Durbin introduced similar legislation in the Senate last month, Attorney General Holder flatly stated that there is “certainly a conversation that can be had about do [certain Patriot Act provisions] need to be re-examined, do they need to be modified in some way to be more sensitive to civil liberties concerns.” Disappointingly, much of the conversation happened in a classified briefing. Even worse, published reports say that your administration worked behind the scenes to introduce a package of amendments to strip privacy and civil liberties protections that you had voted for in the past. //BleuZ00m: This is excellent!
As the debate continues in Congress, we ask you to work for changes to the Patriot Act and FISA to preserve our civil liberties and reestablish checks and balances. Please support HR 3845 and HR 3846 and the amendments that restore similar protections when they are introduced into the Senate.
We also ask that you and Attorney General Holder discuss the issue more transparently. While closed door sessions and private briefings that respect genuine security issues may be necessary, we, the people, need to know that you are still our ally on civil liberties. We ask again that our private information be held in confidence. Further, can we, the people, expect that we will remain innocent until proven guilty?
In today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Representative John Conyers restated your quote,
“As a citizen, I know that we must never, ever, turn our back on [the Constitution’s] enduring principles for expedience sake.”
// citation: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-On-National-Security-5-21-09 check the flyover. speech at the National Archives. ///
“I’ve studied the Constitution as a student, I’ve taught it as a teacher, I’ve been bound by it as a lawyer and a legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never, ever, turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.”
In contrast, Representative Lamar Smith today repeatedly sought to defend National Security Letters and 215s for any and all, without scrutiny, targeting people who are not terrorists. Sir, we are not all terrorists. Yes, we are listening and, as this letter professes, we do care about security and civil liberties. As you stated to us in your July 2008 response to our letter to you, ““In a dangerous world, government must have the authority to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people. But in a free society, that authority cannot be unlimited.” //citation: http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/rospars/gGxsZF/
The proposed reforms in HR 3845 and HR 3846 do not take any powers away from law enforcement; they simply introduce stronger checks and balances, measures that you have supported in the past. Respectfully, why do you argue against these now? We would appreciate hearing the reasons for your change in position. If there is new information that has changed your outlook, please share it.
Many of us were among your strongest supporters as you ran for the Presidency, and we celebrated when you were elected. You have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and we had every reason to believe that you — as a professor of Constitutional law — would honor that pledge. We hope you do not betray our trust.
As you requested, we’re doing our part to shape our country’s destiny. We kindly ask again that you do yours. Please replace the politics of fear with a restoration of our Constitutional rights.