House Judiciary Committee Approves USA Liberty Act
The House Judiciary Committee today approved by a vote of 27-8 the USA Liberty Act (H.R. 3989), a bipartisan bill that reforms and reauthorizes Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to protect both national security and Americans’ civil liberties. The bill was introduced last month by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Representative John Rutherford (R-Fla.), and Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
The USA Liberty Act preserves the core purpose of Section 702: the collection of communications by targeting non-U.S. persons located outside the U.S. in order to identify and thwart terrorist plots against our nation and our citizens. The bill also creates a new framework of protections and transparency requirements to ensure that the government’s use of Section 702 accords with principles enshrined in our Constitution that protect individual liberty. It provides new accountability measures to address the unmasking of U.S. persons’ identities and new reporting requirements on the number of U.S. persons who have been swept up in Section 702 collection. The bill also enhances national security by increasing penalties for those who leak classified information and calling on the intelligence agencies to share information with each other and with our allies to combat terrorism. A summary of the bill can be found here.
Chairman Goodlatte released the following statement on today’s Committee passage of the USA Liberty Act:
“The USA Liberty Act is a carefully drafted, bipartisan bill that protects Americans’ lives and their civil liberties. This bill reauthorizes a critical national security tool that keeps Americans safe, FISA Section 702, but also reforms it to protect Americans’ constitutional rights. It contains more accountability, transparency, and oversight so that the American people have confidence that our cherished liberties continue to be protected as the intelligence community keeps us safe from foreign enemies wishing to harm our nation and citizens. The bill also contains a number of measures to further enhance national security so that our country remains free and safe.
“As FISA Section 702 is set to expire at the end of the year, the USA Liberty Act is the best legislative solution to preserve this important national security tool while also providing for much needed reforms. I urge the House to vote on the USA Liberty Act soon so that the intelligence community is able to identify and thwart terrorist plots while Americans’ constitutional rights are better protected.”
Background: FISA Section 702, which will expire on December 31, 2017, authorizes surveillance of the communications of non-U.S. persons located outside of the United States in order to protect national security. It reportedly contributes to a quarter of all National Security Agency surveillance and has been used on multiple occasions to detect and prevent horrific terrorist plots against our country. Although Congress designed this authority to target non-U.S. persons located outside of the United States, it is clear that Section 702 surveillance programs can and do incidentally collect information about U.S. persons when U.S. persons communicate with the foreign targets of Section 702 surveillance.