Congressman Sensenbrenner: The USA FREEDOM Act ends bulk collection, increases transparency, and stops secret laws.
Right now, as we speak, the NSA is collecting data on every call made to or from every American. The NSA claims the authority to do this under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.
I was Chairman of this Committee on September 11 and the author of the PATRIOT Act. I can say in no uncertain terms that Congress did not intend to allow the bulk collection of Americans’ records. The government’s over-broad collection is based on a blatant misreading of the law.
Last Congress, I introduced the USA FREEDOM Act to re-establish a proper balance between privacy and security. After months of negotiations, the House passed an amended version of the bill with bipartisan support. Unfortunately, the bill narrowly failed a procedural vote in the Senate.
So we’re back today. And we have a deadline.
As Chairman, I demanded that each of the new provisions in the PATRIOT Act contain a sunset so they would automatically expire if Congress did not reauthorize them. Most of the provisions of the act proved non-controversial and were made permanent.
Three provisions—Section 215, Roving Wiretaps, and Lone Wolf—remain subject to sunsets and will expire on June 1.
Knowing what we know now, a clean reauthorization of these programs is an express vote in favor of bulk collection. It says to the American people, “your government needs all of your records to keep you safe.”
Members who travel home to their districts will have to look their constituents in the eye and say, “I believe the government should collect all of your phone records.”
I won’t cast that vote.
Not only is it an affront to our civil liberties, it is does not make us safe. For years the NSA has collected our phone records. And yet, it cannot point to a single attack that bulk collection has stopped.
The threats we face are real, but it's how we stand up for our rights in the face of adversity that matters. The USA FREEDOM Act acknowledges the risks we face and gives the government the tools it needs to fix them in a framework that is cognizant of the limits of government power. Limits our Founders had the presence of mind to build into our Constitution.
And beyond ending bulk collection, with what conceit can we claim self-governance if we concede to the President the ability to make secret laws? My colleagues that share my distrust of the Obama Administration's constant overreach cannot carve out this glaring exception. Make no mistake, if the rule we impose is that the government must follow the rule of law, except in cases of national security, then all matters of importance to the Administration will suddenly take on that hue.
No President should be allowed to run the country by himself—without the Congress, without the public. It is not for the executive branch in its sole discretion to determine the public good.
I admit this bill isn’t perfect, but as it’s often said, the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. The bill ends bulk collection. It ends secret laws. And it increases transparency of our intelligence community.
And it does all this without compromising national security. Many of the provisions in the bill authorize intelligence gathering, but they do it explicitly, with a narrow scope, in legislation publicly debated in Congress.
The United States has the most well-trained and capable anti-terrorism apparatus in the world. And with ISIL and others who detest our way of life, we need this sophisticated counterterrorism infrastructure. I am not naïve to the threats facing our nation.
But bulk collection is an affront to civil liberties, and it does not make us safer. The USA FREEDOM Act is a pro-privacy, pro-national security, pro-business bill that deserves your support.
I want to thank Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers for all their hard work and the staff for so many long hours.
It is imperative Congress support the USA FREEDOM Act and enact it into law. The cost of inaction is dire.