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After months of oversight and collaboration between members from both sides of the aisle, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation to address concerns surrounding our nation’s intelligence gathering programs. The bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361), which was unanimously approved by a vote of 32-0, would reform certain national security programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA, over which the Judiciary Committee has primary jurisdiction.
Last year’s unauthorized public release of information 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 telephone “metadata” under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Since then, I, along with many other Members of Congress and many of my constituents, have expressed concern about how the program is operated and whether it poses a threat to Americans’ civil liberties and privacy.
For nearly a year, the House Judiciary Committee has examined our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs operated under FISA. We have found a bipartisan solution that includes real protections for Americans’ civil liberties, robust oversight, and additional transparency. The Committee has held three hearings on this issue. We’ve heard from many government officials and civil liberties and other groups. We’ve also examined the various recommendations to reform these programs offered by special panels appointed by the President.
The USA FREEDOM Act protects Americans’ privacy by ending the government’s bulk collection of data going forward. Additionally, the bill creates a panel of legal experts to help ensure the privacy concerns and constitutional rights of Americans are adequately considered when the government makes requests for these records. The bill also ensures robust oversight and increases the transparency of the civil liberties protections provided in the law. These changes would safeguard civil liberties while maintaining a workable framework for intelligence officials to protect our national security.
The terrorist threat is real and ongoing – and we must always be aware of the threats we face. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks unless we can first identify and then intercept terrorists. At the same time, Congress must ensure that the laws we have enacted are always protecting our civil liberties. The strong, bipartisan vote by the House Judiciary Committee takes us one step closer to ending bulk collection once and for all. I firmly hold that reforms to intelligence gathering programs must be implemented through legislation passed by Congress, and the USA FREEDOM Act is the starting point to do just that.