December 05, 2006

Wyden Wins Protection of Privacy Rights in Intelligence Authorization Bill

Senator placed a hold on the legislation to force revision of provisionsthat would have significantly affected Americans' privacy rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today announced that the FY2006 Intelligence Authorization bill has been rewritten to address serious concerns he expressed earlier this month about provisions that would have compromised the privacy rights of American citizens, and that he will remove the "hold" he placed on the legislation earlier this month to force a debate on the provisions. This move means that the legislation is likely to be passed by the full Senate today. Specifically, Wyden was successful in amending the legislation to remove a provision that would have permitted Pentagon intelligence officials — without disclosing their government affiliation — to conduct covert interviews of U.S. persons on American soil to assess them as potential intelligence sources. Wyden also succeeded in modifying a provision in the legislation that would permit the intelligence community to request individuals' personal information from other government agencies. The modifications would prevent abuse of the new provision and ensure intelligence community accountability to Congress. "The Department of Defense should not be in the business of spying on law-abiding Americans, period," said Wyden. "When Congress steamrolls privacy rights in the name of national security, it's the American people who lose. This important legislation now strikes a much fairer balance by protecting critical rights for our country's citizens and advancing intelligence operations to meet our security needs." The original version of the legislation would have permitted military intelligence officials to conduct covert interviews of American citizens within the U.S. without disclosing that the officials worked for the government. Wyden's revision maintains the current requirement that they disclose this information when interviewing law-abiding citizens. Before Wyden's modifications, the legislation would also have permitted intelligence agencies to request information from other government agencies by making a written request to those agencies and asserting that the information was relevant to terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. After Wyden's changes, the legislation now requires intelligence agencies to prepare a justification of why the information is relevant, beyond simply stating that it is. Under the revised provision, this prepared justification must be furnished to Congress, the head of the agency receiving the request, and the Inspectors General of relevant agencies upon request, to ensure better oversight and accountability. During Intelligence Committee consideration of the legislation, Wyden, a member of the Committee, expressed his strong opposition to both of these provisions, and announced his intent to seek these changes. Earlier this month, he announced his intention to object to any attempt to pass the legislation by unanimous consent unless the changes he sought were made. As a matter of policy, Wyden publicly announces any formal objection he lodges with regard to nominees or legislation, and does so with a formal statement in the Congressional Record. He placed such a statement in the record on November 9, and it can be found at