Since 9/11, there's been a consistent collision in the United States between fighting terrorism and protecting the civil liberties of American citizens both through law and through judicial oversight.
That collision moves into stark contrast this week with the U.S. Senate's vote on the extension of the Protect America Act (PAA). The PAA was put into place last year as an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, also known as FISA.
For the last several years, telecommunications companies have turned over to the federal government the records of millions of Americans. These records were released under no warrant or judicial oversight. Only President Bush, his closest advisors and the telecom companies know the extent of this warrantless surveillance.
Right now, the U.S. Senate is deciding whether or not to extend the Protect America Act (PAA). The current version, supported by President Bush and Republican members of Congress, would provide legal amnesty for those companies that may have illegally turned over records. This amnesty for telecom companies would shield them from any legal accountability for violating our civil rights.
On my campaign website, I've had a petition up for the past week asking individuals to tell Gordon Smith to reject this immunity for telecommunications companies. Please stop by and sign the petition. Let Gordon Smith know that Americans will not sit still while their right to privacy is eroded.
Congress must stand up and protect the rights of American citizens. They must restore the balance of power by returning oversight to the judiciary. The courts, not the President, should decide whether these actions were legal.
Follow Sen. Jeff Merkley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenJeffMerkley