When the Senate passed the Patriot Act after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, only one senator voted against it: Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin. At the time, Feingold expressed concern over where it could lead.
"One provision that troubles me a great deal is a provision that permits the government under FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] to compel the production of records from any business regarding any person, if that information is sought in connection with an investigation of terrorism or espionage," Feingold said at the time during a speech on the Senate floor.
"Under this provision, the government can apparently go on a fishing expedition and collect information on virtually anyone," he continued. "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."
Feingold added: "This is a truly breathtaking expansion of police power."
It's taken more than a decade, but Feingold's worst fears were proved true when the extent of National Security Agency surveillance programs was revealed last week, thanks to whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Unfortunately, Feingold is no longer in the Senate, having lost in the 2010 midterm elections to tea party Republican Ron Johnson.
Here's hoping that Feingold, a sorely missed progressive voice in the Senate, will find his way back to an elected position, perhaps even in 2016, when Johnson's term is up.
Since the beginning, he was the only Senator who consistently voted against the Patriot Act and various extensions and expansions. And, over the years since then he regularly warned us about secret interpretations of the law, including putting together a hearing more than five years ago on "Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government."
Not only did people fail to take him seriously back then, they voted him out of office in the 2010 "tea party" wave. Considering how many in the Tea Party are now among those most upset about the revelations of NSA surveillance, they might regret that decision... especially since the man they replaced him with, Senator Ron Johnson voted for both the FISA Sunsets Extension Act of 2011 and the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2012 which extended the various provisions that we now know were secretly interpreted by the FISA Court to make these surveillance programs "legal."
Feingold is now speaking out about the NSA surveillance, and it's already leading some to suggest he run again for public office.
Watch Feingold's October 2001 speech on the Senate floor below. For a transcript, click here.
-- Posted by Tracy Bloom.