Mel Martinez

There is no higher responsibility for anyone elected to federal office than keeping Americans safe from foreign attack. We have a variety of tools for doing so, from our brave men and women in our Armed Forces, to our diplomatic corps, to our intelligence services.

Of all the people who spend their days and nights working to keep us safe, none are as important as those who collect and analyze intelligence about our enemies. No weapon in war is more powerful than information. And that is why the upcoming reauthorization of the Protect America Act might be one of the most important congressional debates we undertake this year.

Here’s where we stand today. The Protect America Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President just a few months ago. It was designed to modernize how our intelligence agencies collect and share vital data in an era when our enemies are as likely to communicate via email or cell phones as they are to meet in person. The provisions of the act allow for American intelligence services to monitor electronic communications coming in or out of the United States without having to wait for a court order. In other words, if al Qaeda is calling a sleeper cell in our country, the Protect America Act makes sure our government can monitor that call without any undue roadblocks. The Act sets very specific procedures for such surveillance, and ensures the independent intelligence court system is kept fully apprised. In other words, it was carefully written to give the men and women in our intelligence community the tools they need to keep us safe while still protecting the civil liberties that keep us free.

Throughout the history of our republic we have always been concerned about the proper balance between security and freedom. Those who are generally concerned about the power of government to trample on the rights of free citizens when necessity dictates are right to insist on maintaining the individual civil liberties afforded by our Constitution, most especially in times of crisis. The Protect America Act now being contemplated by the US Congress is precisely concerned with maintaining such protections. Indeed, this Act is simply a modern update to more effectively implement the goals of the original FISA law as passed in 1978.

Unfortunately, Democrats in Congress decided that the provisions of the Protect America Act should only be temporary. Right now, they are set to expire in February, and the bill that Democrats are proposing to replace them is inadequate. It will severely weaken the ability of our government to perform its most critical duty: keeping Americans safe in our daily lives.

Mel Martinez

“Mel” Martinez is Florida’s thirty-third United States Senator and is the first Cuban-American to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Be the first to read Senator Martinez's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.