U.S. News & World Report: An Unnecessary Invasion of Privacy
By Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Bob Goodlatte
For the past nine years, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act has been used by the National Security Agency as legal authority to indiscriminately collect Americans' telephone records into a massive, secret database. Americans were outraged when they learned that billions of their phone records were stocked away in a government database – especially when national security experts examined the program and concluded that it was not essential to preventing terrorist attacks. And recently, a three-judge panel of a federal appellate court unanimously confirmed that the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records is unlawful. This program must end.
Make no mistake, the debate in Congress over the future of the NSA's bulk collection program is about far more than just phone records. We know that for years the NSA indiscriminately collected Americans' Internet metadata – that is, information about who we communicate with online. That is why it is so important to put a stop to this now.
A strong bipartisan coalition of leaders in Congress, which includes us, has come together to do just that. The USA Freedom Act reforms our nation's intelligence-gathering programs to protect Americans' civil liberties and enhance our national security. Recently, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved this bill, but unfortunately some in the Senate continue to advocate for mass surveillance and are using scare tactics and misleading arguments to block reform.
Supporters of mass surveillance argue that it is critical to our national security, but the experts disagree. Richard Clarke, a senior Bush administration counterterrorism official on Sept. 11, 2001, recently said that there is no benefit to a massive database of Americans' phone records. None. He also said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last year that this program would not have prevented the terrorist attacks on 9/11 – as did former Sen. Bob Graham, who investigated the Sept. 11 attacks as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And while some claim that the USA Freedom Act would take us back to a pre-9/11 posture, experts including the attorney general and the director of national intelligence agree that our legislation preserves key national security authorities.
We know that our intelligence agencies do not need massive amounts of private, personal information on law-abiding Americans to keep this country safe. We also know that the intelligence community is facing a critical deadline before authorities under the Patriot Act are set to expire. If Senate leaders continue to block our bipartisan path forward to improve intelligence capabilities and protect Americans' privacy rights, the authorities they consider so critical will cease to exist.
President Barack Obama, the director of national intelligence, the attorney general, civil liberties groups, technology companies and an overwhelming majority of the House of Representatives – 196 Republicans and 142 Democrats – all support this bill. Most importantly, the American people support the USA Freedom Act. The handful of senators who advocate for mass surveillance should listen to the court, the intelligence community and the American people and not hold up progress any longer.
Patrick Leahy is a Democratic senator from Vermont and the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bob Goodlatte is a Republican representative from Virginia. He is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.