We’ve pointed out for years how strong a supporter of civil liberties Senator Ron Wyden has been, but the one guy who probably had an even stronger record on that front was Senator Russ Feingold. Feingold was the only Senator who consistently voted against the PATRIOT Act and increases to government surveillance. In fact he was the only Senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act in the first place. And, at that time, he gave a speech in which he accurately predicted how the NSA would abuse the PATRIOT Act:
And under this new provisions all business records can be compelled, including those containing sensitive personal information like medical records from hospitals or doctors, or educational records, or records of what books someone has taken out of the library. This is an enormous expansion of authority, under a law that provides only minimal judicial supervision.
Under this provision, the government can apparently go on a fishing expedition and collect information on virtually anyone. All it has to allege in order to get an order for these records from the court is that the information is sought for an investigation of international terrorism or clandestine intelligence gathering. That’s it. On that minimal showing in an ex parte application to a secret court, with no showing even that the information is relevant to the investigation, the government can lawfully compel a doctor or hospital to release medical records, or a library to release circulation records. This is a truly breathtaking expansion of police power.
If anything, Feingold underestimated how this provision would be used, because even he didn’t predict it would be used to have phone companies hand over every record on every phone call. Feingold was also the first to raise the alarm about “secret interpretations” of the law, well before others started pointing that out as well.
Thus it was ridiculous and disappointing to see Feingold voted out of office in the 2010 “Tea Party” wave. He lost to Senator Ron Johnson, a Tea Party favorite… who went on to vote in favor of key bills to expand the spying power of the intelligence community.
Feingold has now announced that he wants that Senate seat back, and will be challenging Johnson in the 2016 election:
“[L]et’s fight together for change. That means helping to bring back to the U.S. Senate strong independence, bipartisanship and honesty,” Feingold said in a video announcing his campaign. “So today I’m pleased to announce that I’m planning to run for the United States Senate in 2016. And this effort begins with listening to you. ”
His announcement didn’t mention anything about surveillance or civil liberties, but considering his track record on that front, he would be an important addition to the Senate on these key issues — especially since we lost Senator Mark Udall in the last election, after he had picked up many of the civil liberties issues that Feingold used to champion.