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Thank you for contacting me regarding the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. I appreciate hearing from you on this matter.

On June 8, 2013, the press exposed, and the Obama Administration acknowledged, that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting data associated with millions of American citizens' phone records, including phone numbers, locations, and duration of calls. Additionally, reports revealed the existence of the NSA's "PRISM," a government computer system used to facilitate the collection of foreign intelligence information from U.S.-based electronic communications service providers.

I find these reports deeply troubling. On June 12, 2013, I signed onto a letter sent to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent agency created by Congress, charged with conducting oversight of the Executive branch to ensure its actions balance the need to protect our nation's security, while preserving individual privacy and civil liberties. The letter requests that the Board determine whether the NSA's actions were conducted within the authority granted by Congress and that the necessary precautions to protect the privacy and civil liberties of American citizens under the U.S. Constitution were taken. Additionally, I am looking very closely at legislation that has recently been introduced to address concerns as a result of this data collection.

In 2008, I opposed the Protection of America Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-55) and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-261) for, among other things, concerns over civil liberties protections. On December 28, 2012, I voted against final passage of the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-238). I had significant concerns that this bill did not adequately protect the constitutional rights of American citizens. Furthermore, the bill gives federal agencies authority to continue warrantless wiretapping programs, which allows for eavesdropping on communications and review of emails without an open warrant process. Despite my objections, the FISA Amendments Act was passed by the Senate by a vote of 73 to 23, and was signed into law by President Obama on December 30, 2012.

As you may know, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 was enacted after a series of U.S. Senate hearings revealed Central Intelligence Agency abuses throughout the 1970s. This law sets requirements for physical and electronic surveillance and provides for judicial oversight for most federal wiretapping conducted in the United States.

I believe we must take necessary actions to defeat terrorists both overseas as well as here in the United States. We must also stop those here in the U.S. who are helping terrorists overseas, but we should do so in a way that is consistent with the U.S. Constitution and that protects the privacy of law-abiding Americans.

I believe we can protect both our national security and our civil liberties. To do that there must be oversight of government and anti-terrorism programs to ensure that civil liberties are indeed protected.

Maria Cantwell
United States Senator