Chairman Goodlatte: From the founding of the American republic, this country has been engaged in a profound debate about the limits of government. In the Federalist Papers, the Founders argued passionately for a Federal Government that would protect the American people from foreign threats.
At the same time, the Founders struggled to create a structure to contain and control that government in order to protect the God-given rights of the American people. They carefully crafted the Constitution and Bill of Rights to accomplish these two different, yet complimentary, goals.
In essence, this debate has illuminated the exceptionality of the United States. The ceaseless effort to restrain the reach of government is in our DNA as Americans. And for 225 years, we have refused to accept the idea that in order to have national security, we must sacrifice our personal freedoms.
Some, however, think these goals are in conflict with one another following last year’s unauthorized disclosure of the National Security Agency’s data collection programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
Today, the House will consider legislation that once again proves that American liberty and security are not mutually exclusive. We can protect both Americans’ civil liberties and our national security, without compromising either one.
For nearly a year, the House Judiciary Committee has studied this issue in detail. We have held multiple hearings, consulted the Obama Administration, and worked across party lines to produce bipartisan legislation to ensure these programs protect our national security and our individual freedoms. This bill, the USA FREEDOM Act, was unanimously approved by both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The USA FREEDOM Act makes clear that the government cannot indiscriminately acquire Americans’ call detail records and creates a new, narrowly-tailored process for the collection of these records.
Specifically, the USA FREEDOM Act ends bulk collection by keeping Americans’ phone records in the hands of providers and requiring the government to get the permission of the court to request information from providers using a specific selection term, in their request to the court, that limits the scope of information collected. For example, the government would have to identify a specific person or account as part of any request for information or tangible things.
Furthermore, the USA FREEDOM Act bans bulk collection not just for the controversial telephone metadata program but for all of Section 215 authorities, as well as NSL letters, and pen register, trap and trace devices. These limitations will protect Americans’ records of all types, including medical records, email records, telephone records, and firearm purchase records, among many others.
At the same time, the USA FREEDOM Act ensures that the federal government will continue to have the tools it needs to identify and intercept terrorist attacks. The bill preserves the traditional operational use of these important authorities by the FBI and other intelligence agencies. It provides needed emergency authority to national security officials if there is an immediate national security threat, but still requires the government to obtain court approval of an application within seven days.
The USA FREEDOM Act increases the transparency of our intelligence-gathering programs by creating an amicus curiae in the FISA Court. This amicus will be chosen from a panel of legal experts to help ensure the court adequately considers privacy concerns and the constitutional rights of Americans when reviewing the government’s request for records.
It also requires the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to conduct a declassification review of each decision, order, or opinion of the court that includes a significant construction or interpretation of the law and mandates that the government report the number of orders issued, modified, or denied by the court annually.
Last year’s national security leaks have also had a commercial and financial impact on American technology companies that have provided these records. They have experienced backlash from both American and foreign consumers and have had their competitive standing in the global marketplace damaged. In January of this year, the Justice Department entered into a settlement with several companies to permit new ways to report data concerning requests for customer information under FISA.
The USA FREEDOM Act builds upon this settlement, allowing tech companies to publicly report national security requests from the government to inform their American and foreign customers.
From beginning to end, this is a carefully crafted, bipartisan bill. I would like to thank the sponsor of this legislation, Crime Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, Full Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Intellectual Property Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Nadler and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Scott for working together with me on this important bipartisan legislation.
I also want to thank the staffs of these Members for the many hours, weeks and months of hard work they put into this effort. Furthermore, I would like to thank my staff – Caroline Lynch, the Chief Counsel of the Crime Subcommittee, and Sam Ramer – for their long hours and steadfast dedication to this legislation. I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation, and I reserve the balance of my time.