Four Years Ago

I’m looking back at this letter that I sent to Attorney General Holder four years ago today. It laid out my opposition to the dragnet surveillance of innocent Americans, and my deep concern that the public was being badly misled about the Patriot Act.

At the time, the mass surveillance of millions of Americans had been underway for years, and it wasn’t about to stop anytime soon. I was frustrated and I was angry – as I know many Americans were when they found out about these programs. Bulk collection of Americans’ phone and email records is grossly intrusive, unconstitutional, and, as the public has now learned, ineffective at stopping terrorism.  Yet for all that it was happening, and the American people (and most members of Congress) had no idea.

So I wrote to Attorney General Holder and laid out my deep concern that “the level of secrecy surrounding the official interpretation of the law violates the trust that the American people place in their government.” I believed it was “both unacceptable and untenable” to continue to hide from the public the fact that the government had secretly reinterpreted the law to allow collection of the phone and email records of millions of law-abiding Americans.

As the past nine months have shown, I was right about it being untenable. Because in America the truth always comes out. 

Four years after I sent that letter, the beginning of the end of dragnet surveillance of Americans is happening. This week the President announced that the government will stop indiscriminately collecting the phone records of Americans. It happened because the public debate that should have occurred years ago finally took place. It happened because millions of Americans spoke up and let their government know that mass surveillance is unacceptable.

There are a lot of surveillance reforms that I and other reformers want to make. But for me, ending bulk collection is undeniably the biggest, and the fact that it’s happening is worth celebrating. And in the coming weeks and months I’m going keep working with my colleagues in Congress to enact both this and other major reforms into law, so that a future president can’t undo them. That’s going to take support from the same people who have raised their voices to end bulk collection – with that support we can ensure that changes to the law are real and meaningful. With that support these reforms will truly protect Americans’ rights and liberties, and respect the public’s right to know – which is so indispensable in our democracy. 

You can read my March 26, 2010 letter to Attorney General Holder here.

Wyden lays out his concerns about mass surveillance in 2010