Speeches and Floor Statements

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner Floor Statement on the USA FREEDOM Act

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Washington, May 13, 2015 | comments

You know you've drafted a strong bill when you unite both national security hawks and civil libertarians.  The USA FREEDOM Act has done that.  It also has the support of privacy groups, tech companies, and the intelligence community.

This bill is an extremely well-drafted compromise—the product of nearly two years of work.  It effectively protects Americans’ civil liberties and our national security.  I am very proud of the USA FREEDOM Act and am confident it is the most responsible path forward.
I don’t fault my colleagues who wish this bill went further to protect our civil liberties. For years the government has violated the privacy of innocent Americans, and I share your anger.  But letting Section 215 and other surveillance authorities expire would not only threaten our national security, it would also mean less privacy protections.

The USA FREEDOM Act ends bulk collection across all domestic surveillance authorities.  It also expands transparency with increased reporting from both government and private companies.  If the Administration finds a new way to circumvent the law, Congress and the public will know.  The bill also requires the FISC to declassify significant legal decisions, bringing an end to secret laws.

If the PATRIOT Act authorities expire, and the FISC approves bulk collection under a different authority, how would the public know?  Without the USA FREEDOM Act, they won’t.  Allowing the PATRIOT Act authorities to expire sounds like a civil libertarian victory, but it will actually mean less privacy and more risk.

And now to my colleagues who oppose the USA FREEDOM Act because they don’t believe it does enough for national security.  This bill is a significant improvement over the status quo.  Americans will be safer post-USA FREEDOM than they would be if Congress passes a clean reauthorization of the expiring provisions.

I’m not ignorant to the threats we face, but a clean reauthorization would be irresponsible. Congress never intended Section 215 to allow bulk collection. This program is illegal and based on a blatant misinterpretation of the law.

That said, the FREEDOM Act gives the intelligence community new tools to combat terrorism in more targeted and effective ways.

Specifically, the bill replaces the Administration’s bulk metadata collection with a targeted program to collect only records the government needs without compromising the privacy of innocent Americans.

It includes new authorities to allow the Administration to expedite emergency requests under Section 215, and fills holes in our surveillance law that require intelligence agencies to go dark on known terrorists or spies when they transit from outside to inside the U.S. or vice versa.
Under current law, the Administration has to temporarily stop monitoring persons of interest as it shifts between domestic and international surveillance authorities.   What's more likely to stop the next terrorist attack, the bulk collection of records of innocent Americans or the ability to track a known terrorist as soon as he enters the U.S.? 
If you answer that question the same way I do, then don't let the bluster and fearmongering of the bill’s opponents convince you we are safer with a clean reauthorization than we are with this bill.

Attorney General Lynch and Director of National Intelligence Clapper recognize this.   In a recent letter of support, they wrote, “The significant reforms contained in this legislation will provide the public greater confidence in how our intelligence activities are carried out and in the oversight of those activities, while ensuring vital national security authorities remain in place.”

Let's not kill these important reforms because we wish the bill did more.  There is no perfect.  Every bill we vote on could do more. I play the lottery.  When I win, I don't throw away the winning ticket because I wish the jackpot was higher.
It’s time to pass the USA FREEDOM Act. I'm asking all of my colleagues—Democrat and Republican, security hawks and civil libertarians—to vote for it. Let's speak with one voice in the House of Representatives and together urge the Senate to work quickly and adopt these important reforms.

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