Chairman Goodlatte: Today, the House Judiciary Committee will consider a bipartisan proposal that is the culmination of months of oversight and collaboration between members from both sides of the aisle to reform certain national security programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA, over which this committee has primary jurisdiction.
I want to thank the sponsor of the USA FREEDOM Act, Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner, for his dedication to this important issue. And I also want to take a moment and thank him and Ranking Member Conyers, Mr. Nadler and Mr. Scott for working with me to prepare the bipartisan substitute that we will consider in just a few moments.
The FISA business records provision – often referred to as Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act – allows the government to access business records in foreign intelligence, international terrorism and clandestine intelligence investigations.
Last year’s unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden revealed to the American people that the National Security Agency, as part of its mission to protect the United States from terrorist attacks, had been collecting bulk telephony “metadata” under Section 215.
Since the unauthorized public release of this program, many Members of Congress and their constituents have expressed concern about how the program is operated and whether it poses a threat to Americans’ civil liberties and privacy.
The leaks by Edward Snowden also revealed a classified program operated pursuant to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which was enacted to maintain the NSA’s ability to gather intelligence on foreign targets overseas.
Over the past year, the House Judiciary Committee has conducted aggressive oversight of these programs. In July 2013, the Committee held a public hearing at which we heard from officials with the Justice Department, the Director of National Intelligence, the NSA and the FBI and civil liberties groups.
In September 2013, the Committee held a classified hearing where members were afforded the opportunity to further probe these programs with officials from DOJ, ODNI, NSA, and FBI. And in February of this year, the Committee held a comprehensive hearing to examine the various recommendations to reform these programs offered by the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
In January of this year, the President announced his desire to end the bulk collection of telephone metadata. In March, President Obama outlined his proposal to allow access to non-content telephone records held by telephone companies. Absent an emergency situation, the government would obtain the records only pursuant to individual orders from the FISA Court. The records provided to the government in response to queries would only be within two hops of the selection term being used, and the government’s handling of any records it acquires would be governed by minimization procedures approved by the Court.
President Obama also correctly acknowledged that reforms to these programs must be implemented through legislation passed by Congress. The House Judiciary Committee is taking the first important step towards this goal today.
The terrorist threat is real and ongoing – and we must always be cognizant of the threats we face. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks unless we can first identify and then intercept the terrorists. At the same time, Congress must ensure that the laws we have enacted are executed in a manner that protects our national security while also protecting our civil liberties so that we can regain the trust of the American people. I am confident that today the Committee will do just that.