A Democratic senator and leading critic of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs believes that a federal judge has vindicated his skepticism.
Judge Richard Leon ruled this week that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records likely violates the Constitution. That showed “we’ve overreached,” according to Sen. Mark Udall (Colo.)
“Just because you can do something technologically doesn’t mean you should do it,” Udall told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “So there’s a line here, there’s a balance here. And I’m really heartened because that panel and the judge pointed out where that balance should be.”
The judge’s ruling wasn’t the only blow dealt to the NSA’s electronic surveillance efforts this week. President Obama’s own review panel recommended greater restrictions, including banning the agency from holding onto phone metadata. That responsibility would lie with phone companies instead.
Udall has been a strident detractor of NSA surveillance. This week, he voted against a bill that would have curtailed some records collection that was drafted by members of its own party, saying it did not go far enough.
"We want to have a strong intelligence community. We want to gather intelligence," he said. "But there are ways to do it that keep faith with the Bill of Rights. Our biggest, strongest weapon is the Bill of Rights. It's why we're admired around the world. We can be safe, but we can also respect people's freedoms."
He helped write bipartisan legislation that would outright prohibit bulk records collection, among other surveillance reforms. Udall says part of the reason he’s such a staunch critic of the programs is because there’s little evidence they worked in stopping terrorist activity.
“Why are we surveilling every single American every single day when it hasn’t worked?” he asked. “When you consider that it hasn’t been useful and it hasn’t foiled any plots, why are we doing this? Why are we violating American’s privacy?”
But he’s confident that this week’s development could portend real change.
“For all those reasons, I’m going to keep at it,” he said. “We created some momentum this week and I think the Congress presently has an opportunity to do the right thing.”
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.