Mike on Civil Liberties and Individual Freedoms

I am committed to protecting our civil liberties — one of the principles upon which our country was founded. I was one of 66 House Members to oppose the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001. We must give law enforcement the tools they need to keep us safe. However, the PATRIOT Act is a bad law because it failed to protect our cherished civil liberties.

I was outraged in the summer of 2013 to learn that the federal government was obtaining information from major phone and internet providers about telephone calls, emails, and other internet activity to and from the United States. Federal officials argued that this bulk data collection was permissible under the PATRIOT Act and that U.S. citizens were not being targeted. This is an incredible overreach and a clear invasion of privacy. A better balance must be struck between giving law enforcement the means to monitor potential terrorists and preserving the freedoms terrorists seek to destroy. In the 113th Congress, I co-sponsored H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act, to ensure that the rights of Americans were protected by limiting the scope of the PATRIOT Act. Unfortunately the legislation was significantly altered to the point that it did very little to protect our rights and I did not support the bill when it passed the House.

I opposed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which passed the House by a narrow margin of 213-197. The original FISA legislation permitted wire-tapping with warrants obtained from judges in special courts who could examine evidence in camera, that is, in secret, if national security might be compromised by a discussion in open court. The new bill failed, in my opinion, to protect our citizens from unconstitutional intrusions, and although it made some improvements, I could not support it. I believe that individual liberty and the constitutional separation of powers both demand warrants authorizing surveillance.

I remain deeply troubled by the targeted killing program undertaken by the Executive Branch during both of the two most recent presidential administrations. These efforts are aimed at eliminating terrorist threats overseas; they are conducted with utmost secrecy and usually involve the use of drone aircrafts. While I recognize that national security may, in some instances, require U.S. strikes against those abroad who pose an imminent threat to our country, I believe our government can and must set up a more regularized framework grounded in law and based on sound policy. The “collateral damage” often deepens our difficulties in dealing with local governments who are themselves under threat from terrorist networks. Congressional authorization is needed to legitimize the use of force and to develop a foreign policy that affirms America’s moral leadership in the world.

I have filed several bills focused on privacy issues and technology because I am concerned about the increasing amount of information that is available, or could be available, through technology. I filed the We Are Watching You Act in 2013 based on reports and patents we discovered about DVR technology that could be used to record people in the privacy of their own homes as they watch television. According to the patent application, this information would be used to target advertisements to specific consumers. My legislation requires prior consent before the technology can be installed. If the consumer consents, then the words “we are watching you” will scroll across the screen for the duration of the recording.

I have been filing the “Black Box Privacy Protection Act” since 2006 to clarify who has control over the information recorded by a vehicle’s “black box”. My legislation stipulates that all data collected by the event data recorder (EDR) are the property of the vehicle owner. Nothing could be retrieved by anyone else without a court order.

I filed the “Reasonable Policies on Automated License Plate Readers Act” to establish privacy protections for the information obtained through automatic license plate readers. They are set up on police cars or as fixed cameras to capture thousands of license plates every hour. There is no statutory limit on how long the information can be stored or who can access it. My legislation does not prohibit the use of the cameras. It simply requires police departments to delete the data after 30 days unless needed in an active police investigation. It also prevents the sharing of data outside the local police department.

Perhaps most important, I have consistently fought to protect the fundamental civil rights of all Americans, the right to vote that is crucial to our democracy. Every citizen eligible to vote must feel free to exercise that right and to know votes will be fairly counted. I am proud to have co-sponsored the reauthorization of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 and am pleased that it is now the law of the land. I have also insisted that any reform of voting systems include the right of every citizen to demand a paper ballot. Voters need to know that every vote cast can be honestly and openly recounted, if necessary.