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Video: Mark Udall says people should know how government is monitoring phone calls, e-mails

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How much access should the government have to Americans' phone calls and e-mails -- and should Congress and the public know how people are being monitored? Senator Mark Udall addressed these questions of surveillance in a lengthy floor speech yesterday, calling for better privacy protections and more information on how the government is actually monitoring people through its authority to acquire foreign intelligence.

Here's the video of his speech, which, his staff tells us, was one of a handful of comments yesterday from Democrats and Republicans calling for amendments to the FISA Amendments Act, or FAA.

In 2008, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended to put a legal framework on President George Bush's warrantless wiretapping program -- creating the FISA Amendments Act, which is set to expire this year. Part of that change stipulated that the federal government could no longer monitor the e-mail and phone calls of Americans overseas without a judge's permission.

"This is an issue that's critical to get right, because if it's done wrong it can strike at the core of our constitutional freedoms," Udall said, noting that it's likely many senators will vote for the bill, but that it is incomplete and needs reforms. "I believe that Congress and the public does not have an adequate understanding of the effect that this law has had and could have on the privacy of law-abiding American citizens."

The bill is up for a vote today and Udall, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is calling for is better protections against surveillance and reporting requirements so that there is more transparency about how e-mail and phone calls are being collected by the government.

"So much about this law's impact remains secret," Udall said, noting that he and his colleagues have sought a rough estimate of how many Americans have had their phone calls and e-mails collected under this authority.

"This is disconcerting," he added. "If no one has even estimated how many Americans have had their communications collected under the FISA Amendments Act, then it's possible this number could be quite large."

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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