DENVER
06/10/2013 04:55 pm ET

Mark Udall: Patriot Act 'Ripe For Abuse,' Needs To Be Reopened, Reformed

From The Colorado Independent's John Tomasic.

He made impassioned speeches on the Senate floor, held press conferences and appeared on the Sunday talk shows. For years, Colorado Senator Mark Udall has been telling anyone who will listen that key provisions of the Patriot Act are being used by the the government to tread on citizens’ constitutional rights to privacy.

In May 2011, when Udall teamed with fellow member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Ron Wyden from Oregon to try and slow the move on Capitol Hill to quickly reauthorize the Patriot Act, not many people were listening. The two senators said they supported the act and the security it provided but that they were shocked during classified briefings to learn sections of the law were being abused. They said those sections needed to be reformed.

The effort was mocked and derailed. Conservative bloggers in Colorado called Udall a “flip-flopper,” pointing to the fact that he had voted for the act in the past. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid orchestrated a move to shut down Udall and Wyden with a vote to block debate, which passed 74 to 13.

“I resent this rush to rubber-stamp laws that endanger liberties we hold so dear,” Udall said in a conference call with state reporters at the time. “They have always pressed for short-term extensions [to the Patriot Act] without debate. Now we were notified just a few days ago that we would be asked to pass a four-year extension of the law. We are ensuring Americans will live with the status quo for four more years.

“Bottom line is that the Patriot Act has kept us safe for ten years but Coloradans have asked me to work to protect their liberties and freedoms and I won’t vote for it again,” he said.

Now, after a whistleblower leaked records to The Guardian last week detailing how the government has been leaning on the Patriot Act to collect records of the phone calls and internet use of millions of Americans, people are listening to Udall and Wyden.

Udall, appearing to feel relieved and justified at last, this week said he did everything he could short of leak classified information in order to persuade lawmakers that the act had to be reworked and that the American public should be more fully involved in the debate.

Today he launched a sort of “Now I Can Exhale” and “I Told You So” fundraising pitch for his 2014 reelection campaign.

“Finally, the national conversation can begin, with Americans knowing the facts,” he writes in an email to supporters.

“When I learned two years ago, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, about the National Security Agency’s invasive collection of records, I knew many Americans would be as shocked as I was. I also am not convinced, based on my knowledge of the facts, that this bulk collection of Americans’ private information has provided any uniquely valuable intelligence that has disrupted terrorist plots.

“Make no mistake: protecting American soil in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks is my highest priority. But when our government conducts counter-terrorism activities that threaten our privacy, I believe our government has the responsibility to be straight with the American people about how far such efforts reach.

“Together, we can make sure that our government is more accountable in respecting the rights of law-abiding Americans.”

So far, no Colorado Republican has stepped forward to run against Udall in the 2014 election.

Udall’s fundraising letter:

Finally, the national conversation can begin, with Americans knowing the facts.

Several days ago, a series of news reports disclosed for the first time the breadth of the U.S. government’s surveillance of American citizens in the fight against terrorism. These reports have riveted the nation. The most troubling reports describe how the federal government collects information about millions of telephone calls made by Americans, including who they call and when they call.

As a member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, I know how damaging leaks of classified information can be to our national security. I wish the information about our government’s telephone records surveillance program had come directly from the Administration itself. But now the American people are more empowered to judge the secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act — and to see how those interpretations have been used to expand collection of Americans’ telephone records.

I’m pleased that President Obama said that we should have a national dialogue — with more facts on the table — about the scope of our intelligence community’s surveillance authority. And I believe that national conversation must lead to responsible reforms.

Will you join me and call on Congress to re-open debate of the PATRIOT Act and reform our laws to ensure that wide-scale collection of Americans’ phone records is not done without their knowledge?

When I learned two years ago, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, about the National Security Agency’s invasive collection of records, I knew many Americans would be as shocked as I was. I also am not convinced, based on my knowledge of the facts, that this bulk collection of Americans’ private information has provided any uniquely valuable intelligence that has disrupted terrorist plots.

Make no mistake: protecting American soil in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks is my highest priority. But when our government conducts counter-terrorism activities that threaten our privacy, I believe our government has the responsibility to be straight with the American people about how far such efforts reach.

Before the NSA’s phone records collection program was exposed, I worked non-stop to encourage the Administration to be more transparent. While I would never reveal classified information, I did everything within my power to appropriately raise red flags — and often was criticized for doing so.

I supported amendments to responsibly reform the PATRIOT Act, spoke many times on the Senate floor, and urged the Administration to tell the American people about how the surveillance laws were being used. I even voted against the long-term reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act because it didn’t strike the right balance between privacy and security.

Let’s now lead a national discussion about how far the government should go in circumscribing our constitutional rights while fighting terrorism. Let’s call on Congress to debate and reform the PATRIOT Act and do a better job in balancing national security and personal privacy.

Together, we can make sure that our government is more accountable in respecting the rights of law-abiding Americans.

Thanks for your support on this very important issue,

Mark

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