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Sen. Mark Begich is cosponsoring a bill that would end secret interpretations of the Patriot Act, which enabled the National Security Agency to collect billions of phone records from Americans.

The Democratic senator reflects others’ views in Alaska’s Washington delegation: Lawmakers are demanding more transparency and congressional oversight on government surveillance, though they won’t say the programs need to be shut down or that Congress should repeal the Patriot Act.

“I have repeatedly called for a better balance between protecting our safety and protecting our constitutional rights — that’s why I’ve cosponsored a bill to end secret law and to bring greater transparency and accountability in our government,” Begich said.

If the E-Verify system challenges a person’s eligibility, the government could require that person to show up in person at the nearest Social Security Administration office to answer questions, under the terms of S744.

That won’t work in Alaska, Begich said.

“The requirement to appear in person would place a huge burden on people in rural areas,” Sen. Begich said in the news release. “It’s just not realistic, especially for the more than 30,000 Alaskans who live off the road system.”

Begich’s amendment would require the government to set up an alternative method of dealing with such cases for people who live off the road system or more than 150 miles from a Social Security office.

“We wouldn’t require the people of New York to take a boat, snowmachine or plane just to verify their employment eligibility, and we shouldn’t require that of Alaskans,” Begich said.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial:

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, has endorsed a worthwhile idea amid all the hand-wringing about the secret spying efforts conducted by our government: At least let Americans see what the rules are.

Begich has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would require the declassification of rulings by the federal court that interprets the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Under the legislation, the attorney general could still block release of information about the specific individuals and the circumstances involved in the court’s rulings by releasing only a summary of the decision. If even a summary would reveal too much, the attorney general would have to report to Congress on why.

Anchorage Daily News Opinion:

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, says that we all should be secure from unreasonable search and seizure of our persons, property and papers. Logic argues that those rights extend to digital communications. We’re a long way from quill and parchment, but the principles remain. The check on government always has been to require a warrant, and the warrant requires probable cause. That’s reason striking the balance between liberty and security.

Clearly, there is no probable cause that would allow government access to the communications of everyone in the country. So the healthy wariness of Alaskans, echoed by Sens. Murkowski and Begich, is wise. Once a government gains power, government is loathe to let it go. That’s not conspiracy, that’s human nature.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, has joined a bipartisan group of senators introducing the End Secret Law Act, to declassify secret court opinions to make transparent the government’s legal authority for claiming phone records and other information.

Begich said on June 11 that he is “deeply concerned over the reports of the government collecting millions of Americans’ phone records.

“I’ve co-sponsored this bill because we need greater transparency and accountability in our government to prevent overreach and to protect against an unnecessary invasion of Americans’ privacy,” he said. “In the coming weeks I will push for a better balance between protecting our safety and protecting our constitutional rights.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich says he didn’t support a federal decision extending the comment period on a study of large mining impacts in the Bristol Bay region.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency extended until June 30 the comment period on its revised watershed assessment. The comment period originally was to end May 31.

Begich told a town hall Friday that EPA has plenty of material to work with, without the extended comment period. He said more time can mean more politics added to the process.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, has proposed transfer of underutilized U.S. Air Force C-27J cargo aircraft to the U.S. Coast Guard in support of the Obama Administration’s new Arctic strategy.

Begich posed the idea in a letter May 21 to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, saying this would relieve the Coast Guard of the need to buy new maritime patrol aircraft and would result in about $800 million in savings.

That $800 million is about the projected cost of a new heavy icebreaker, and those funds could then be applied to building the icebreaker, he said.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska held a listening session with Alaska emergency response leaders in Anchorage on May 28 to discuss preparedness and mitigation efforts for climate change, coastal erosion, flooding and sea level rise in the warming Arctic.

The roundtable came in response to the White House’s recently released National strategy for the Arctic Region, to give Alaskans a chance to comment, said Begich, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee on emergency management, intergovernmental relations and the District of Columbia.

“Alaska is ground zero for climate change and it is critical that Alaskans play an integral role in this conversation,” Begich said.

In a wide-ranging discussion Memorial Day, Sen. Mark Begich showed that military and veterans’ issues are clearly on his mind.

In terms of people stopping by his office seeking help, nothing can touch veterans’ health care.

“It’s the No. 1 issue,” Begich said during a holiday visit to the Frontiersman office. The office helps veterans, he said, but it’s not the way these issues should be handled. “All we do is triage on these things.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today introduced legislation that would ban bankers from sitting on the boards of directors for 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks that regulate the financial industry.

Co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), the bill also would end the practice of letting bankers have a say in the selection of the Fed directors that regulate them. A companion measure was introduced in the House by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).