Colorado Senator Warned of Patriot Act's Potential for Privacy Invasions



He made impassioned speeches on the Senate floor, held press conferences and appeared on the Sunday talk shows. For years, Colorado Senator Mark Udall has been telling anyone who will listen that key provisions of the Patriot Act are being used by the the government to tread on citizens’ constitutional rights to privacy.

In May 2011, when Udall teamed with fellow member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Ron Wyden from Oregon to try and slow the move on Capitol Hill to quickly reauthorize the Patriot Act, not many people were listening. The two senators said they supported the act and the security it provided but that they were shocked during classified briefings to learn sections of the law were being abused. They said those sections needed to be reformed.

The effort was mocked and derailed. Conservative bloggers in Colorado called Udall a “flip-flopper,” pointing to the fact that he had voted for the act in the past. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid orchestrated a move to shut down Udall and Wyden with a vote to block debate, which passed 74 to 13.

“I resent this rush to rubber-stamp laws that endanger liberties we hold so dear,” Udall said in a conference call with state reporters at the time. “They have always pressed for short-term extensions [to the Patriot Act] without debate. Now we were notified just a few days ago that we would be asked to pass a four-year extension of the law. We are ensuring Americans will live with the status quo for four more years.

“Bottom line is that the Patriot Act has kept us safe for ten years but Coloradans have asked me to work to protect their liberties and freedoms and I won’t vote for it again,” he said.

Now, after a whistleblower leaked records to The Guardian last week detailing how the government has been leaning on the Patriot Act to collect records of the phone calls and internet use of millions of Americans, people are listening to Udall and Wyden.

Udall, appearing to feel relieved and justified at last, this week said he did everything he could short of leak classified information in order to persuade lawmakers that the act had to be reworked and that the American public should be more fully involved in the debate.

Today he launched a sort of “Now I Can Exhale” and “I Told You So” fundraising pitch for his 2014 reelection campaign.

“Finally, the national conversation can begin, with Americans knowing the facts,” he writes in an email to supporters.

When I learned two years ago, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, about the National Security Agency’s invasive collection of records, I knew many Americans would be as shocked as I was. I also am not convinced, based on my knowledge of the facts, that this bulk collection of Americans’ private information has provided any uniquely valuable intelligence that has disrupted terrorist plots.

“Make no mistake: protecting American soil in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks is my highest priority. But when our government conducts counter-terrorism activities that threaten our privacy, I believe our government has the responsibility to be straight with the American people about how far such efforts reach.

“Together, we can make sure that our government is more accountable in respecting the rights of law-abiding Americans.”

So far, no Colorado Republican has stepped forward to run against Udall in the 2014 election.

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