It was the administration who withheld this surveillance program from the vast majority of Members of Congress, and it was the administration who developed the legal theories to explain why it could, in fact, go around the law.
So I am pleased this bill includes independent reviews of the administration's actions to be conducted by the inspectors general of the relevant departments.
All of that said, when the legislation was before the Senate in February, I stated my belief that immunity should only be provided if the defendant companies acted legally, or if they acted in good faith with a reasonable belief that their actions were legal. That is what the law calls for.
I moved an amendment to require the court to review the written requests to companies to see whether they met the terms of the law. That law requires that a specific person send a certification in writing to a telecommunications company. That certification is required to state that no court order is required for the surveillance, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the assistance is required by the Government.
Unfortunately, my amendment was not adopted, but I continue to believe it is the appropriate standard.
Now, the pending legislation does not assess whether the request made by the Government was, in fact, legal, nor whether the companies had a good-faith and objective belief that the requests were legal. What this bill does provide is a limited measure of court review. It is not as robust as my amendment would have provided, but it does provide an opportunity for the plaintiffs to be heard in court, and it provides an opportunity for the court to review these request documents.
I believe the court should not grant immunity without looking into the legality of the companies' actions. So if there is an amendment that does support this, I would intend to vote for it.
But I believe the Record should be clear in noting that if this bill does become law, in my view, it does not mean the Congress has passed judgment on whether any companies' actions were or were not legal. Rather, it should be interpreted as Congress recognizing the circumstances under which the companies were acting and the reality that we desperately need the voluntary assistance of the private sector to keep the Nation secure in the future.
I believe this bill balances security and privacy without sacrificing either. It is certainly better than the Protect America Act in that regard, and makes improvements over the 1978 FISA law.
As I said, if a new bill is not in place by mid-August, the Nation will be laid bare and unable to collect intelligence.
This bill provides for meaningful and repeated court review of surveillance done for intelligence purposes. It ends, once and for all, the practice of warrantless surveillance, and it protects Americans' constitutional rights both at home and abroad. It provides the Government with the flexibility it needs under the law to protect our Nation. It makes it crystal clear that this is the law of the land and that this law must be obeyed.
I yield the floor.
United States Senator
Further information about my position on issues of concern to California and the Nation are available at my website http://feinstein.senate.gov/public/. You can also receive electronic e-mail updates by subscribing to my e-mail list at click here