Former senator Russ Feingold. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Russ Feingold is no longer in the US Senate.
And that is unfortunate.
No one took more seriously the duty to defend privacy rights than the civil libertarian senator from Wisconsin, who served for the better part of two decades as the essential member of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee—and who cast the only Senate vote against the Patriot Act because of the threat he recognized to the guarantees outline in the Fourth Amendment.
But with the report by The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald that the NSA has been tracking every call by Verizon business customers, and with The Washington Post report that a National Security Agency program took e-mails and other information from companies that included “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple, it is vital that the new Feingolds in the Senate start to make a lot more noise.
With revelations that "open the possibility of communications made entirely within the US being collected without warrants," engagd members of the House and Senate know that congressional response has to be far more aggressive, as past failures by the House and Senate to provide proper oversight has left the Fourth Amendment at best vulnerable and at worst shredded.
Some senators think that’s acceptable. Indeed, Senator Lindsay Graham, R-SC, has declared himself “glad” that the National Security Agency is obtaining the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. And key Democrats, such as Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, D-California, have adopted a “what’s-the-big-deal?” stance that says the spying is old news that senators should have been aware of.
But many of the sharpest and most engaged members of the chamber are rejecting that assessment. Among those stepping up today were Democrats and Republicans who have histories of expressing concern about abuses of privacy rights. In the House, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Michigan Democrat John Conyers, Jr., and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, Virginia Democrat Robert C. "Bobby" Scott moved fast to declare: "The recent revelation that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has approved the blanket and ongoing collection of telephone records — including those of everyday Americans with absolutely no ties to terrorism — is highly problematic and reveals serious flaws in the scope and application of the USA PATRIOT Act. We believe this type of program is far too broad and is inconsistent with our Nation's founding principles. We cannot defeat terrorism by compromising our commitment to our civil rights and liberties."