WASHINGTON, DC – Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have joined in a bipartisan effort to introduce legislation to further protect the civil rights and civil liberties of Americans. Their legislation aims to ensure that officials within the Department of Homeland Security have the ability to balance public safety with the civil right and liberties that are so important to Americans. The legislation will be referred to the Governmental Affairs Committee, which Senator Collins chairs.
“I am pleased to join with Senator Wyden in introducing this important bill,” said Senator Collins.
“The Department of Homeland Security was created in response to the need to safeguard our homeland, and it represented the most significant government restructuring in 50 years. But in focusing our attention on protecting the homeland from future terrorist attacks, we also must ensure that we do not trample on the very values that the terrorists seek to destroy,” said Senator Collins.
She added, “Secretary Ridge has done an outstanding job at taking these sensitive and important issues into account. So it is the responsibility of the Congress to ensure that federal law supports goals that the Secretary has already undertaken.”
“It is not acceptable to approach civil liberties as an afterthought, especially at a Federal agency with responsibilities as far-reaching as the Department of Homeland Security,” said Senator Wyden. “This legislation will help to build civil liberties and privacy considerations into the DNA of the Department and its various programs.”
The Collins-Wyden legislation ensures continued senior level status of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Officer and the Privacy Officer, and it clearly defines the roles and duties of these officers. In addition, it ensures coordination between these officers and the Inspector General.
Finally, the bill creates a new position within the office of the Inspector General whose responsibility would be to oversee civil rights and civil liberties cases that are referred to this office.
In addition, the bill would amend the Department of Homeland Security’s mission statement to include the protection of civil liberties and civil rights as priority for the Department and its activities.