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Editorial: Time to reform surveillance laws

The Daily Astorian, July 29, on Sen. Ron Wyden and NSA surveillance:

America’s birthright is all about the freedom and the right to privacy. The Fourth Amendment states that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause ...”

In 2013 Americans are awakening to how our privacy is secretly being bargained away. The U.S. House of Representatives last Wednesday voted 217-205 against an amendment to prohibit the National Security Agency’s telephone-tracking surveillance. The losing 205 coalition was a rare collection of libertarian Republicans and liberal Democrats.

These issues are defining what might be called the middle part of Sen. Ron Wyden’s Capitol Hill career. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Wyden has long expressed skepticism about the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s courts, which have approved a host of government fishing expeditions. While Sen. Wyden voted for the Patriot Act, he has opposed its subsequent renewals.

Now Wyden is delivering the alarming news that — well out of view — judges are interpreting the Patriot Act in surprising ways.

Speaking last Wednesday to the Center for American Progress, Wyden delivered one of the fullest explanations of what bothers him. He talked about “secret law — a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act, issued by a secret court, that authorizes secret surveillance programs — programs that I and colleagues think go far beyond the intent of the statute.”

Wyden offered this admonition: “If we do not seize this unique moment in our constitutional history to reform our surveillance laws and practices, we will all live to regret it.”

Our senator has answered his appointment with history. The rest of us must do the same. Or, as Wyden said, live to regret that we did not speak up.


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