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The Senate's Next Feingolds Must Step Up to Defend Privacy Rights

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Source: The Nation


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 outlined 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, it is important to recognize that there are a few new Feingolds in the Senate.

How many remains to be seen. But the congressional response to the latest revelation is vital, 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 some 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.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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