The Hill: Pass Freedom Act Now
By Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.)
Recently, a federal appeals court ruled that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection program is not authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. This court ruling confirms what we’ve been saying all along: bulk collection of data is not authorized under the law and is not accepted by the American people.
It also reaffirms that a straight reauthorization of the bulk collection program, as some have proposed, is not a choice for Congress. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we reform our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs so they protect both national security and Americans’ privacy.
For more than a year, we have worked to craft a bill that does just that. The result is the USA Freedom Act, which contains the most sweeping set of reforms to government surveillance practices in nearly 40 years. And this week, the House will vote on this bipartisan legislation.
Last year, the USA Freedom Act passed the House 303-121. It narrowly failed to advance in the Senate, garnering 58 votes in its favor but falling 2 votes short of reaching the 60 required for cloture. That could have been the end of the reform effort, but we believed it was important to keep tackling this issue, because core American values are at stake.
Consequently, we have worked since January on a bipartisan, bicameral basis to update the USA Freedom Act. The result is an even stronger bill that achieves greater reforms, unequivocally ends bulk collection of data, protects Americans’ civil liberties and increases the transparency and oversight of our intelligence community, while also protecting national security and specifically including targeted enhancements to combat foreign terrorists like members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Some argue that protecting both individual liberty and national security is unattainable, but these two goals are not in conflict with each other. 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.
The debate surrounding the NSA’s intelligence-gathering programs 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.
The USA Freedom Act lives up to these ideals, proving once again that we can protect both Americans’ civil liberties and our national security without compromising either one.
For example, the bill protects Americans’ civil liberties by banning the bulk collection of any business records and prohibiting large-scale, indiscriminate collection, such as data from an entire state, city or even zip code. It also creates a panel of experts to advise courts examining the government’s national security requests on matters of privacy and civil liberties, communications technology and other technical or legal matters.
In addition, the USA Freedom Act increases the transparency of the government’s intelligence-gathering programs by making more information available to the American public. It requires the declassification of all significant court opinions, mandates the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to provide the public with detailed information about how they use these national security authorities, and provides even more robust transparency reporting by America’s technology companies.
The USA Freedom Act contains several important national security enhancements to keep our country safe from those who wish us harm. It closes loopholes that make it difficult for the government to track foreign terrorists and spies as they enter or leave the country, enhances investigations of international proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and increases the maximum penalties for material support of a foreign terrorist organization. With the rise of ISIS and other foreign terrorist groups, these targeted provisions could not come at a better time.
The USA Freedom Act represents government at its best — the product of a robust public debate and intense bipartisan negotiations dedicated to finding a way to protect our constitutional rights while enhancing our safety. Once the House passes this legislation, the Senate should do the same.
Goodlatte has represented Virginia’s 6th Congressional District since 1993. He sits on the Agriculture Committee and is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Sensenbrenner represents Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District and has served in the House since 1979. He sits on the Science, Space and Technology; and the Judiciary committees.