NSA reform: Why USA FREEDOM Act is good for America

Our Founding Fathers understood there could be no national security without personal security. As such, they carefully crafted the Constitution and Bill of Rights in such a way as to accomplish these two different, yet complimentary, goals.

Nearly 225 years later, some think these goals are in conflict with one another following last year’s unauthorized disclosure of the National Security Agency’s data collection programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. However, we don’t have to sacrifice one for the other as we seek to reform our intelligence-gathering programs. We, like the Founding Fathers, can protect our cherished individual liberties while simultaneously preserving our ability to protect against attacks on our nation and citizens.

Today’s debate is similar to the debate surrounding the adoption of the Constitution. While we enjoy a Bill of Rights in our Constitution today, our framers publicly and privately debated for years whether or not the Constitution needed to include a list of rights.

Some advocated for the maintenance of a strong central government in the wake of the weak Articles of Confederation, while others’ primary desire was to protect the individual freedoms of citizens.

In the end, both parties were able to accommodate their goals by adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, which enumerates liberties to be protected and enjoyed by all while preserving the federal government’s fundamental power to protect our country and citizens.

As Congress seeks to reform our intelligence-gathering programs, both Americans’ civil liberties and our national security are at stake and both can be protected.

For the past year, the House Judiciary Committee has studied this issue in detail and has worked across party lines, and with the Obama administration, to produce bipartisan legislation to ensure these programs protect our national security and individual freedom.

This bill, the USA FREEDOM Act, was unanimously approved by both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and will be voted on by the House of Representatives this week.

To protect Americans’ freedoms, the USA FREEDOM Act ends all bulk collection of Americans’ records, such as telephone and electronic communications records.

The USA FREEDOM Act makes clear that the government cannot indiscriminately acquire Americans’ records and creates a new process for the collection of transactional call detail records. Specifically, the bill requires that these transactional call detail records can only be collected on a case-by-case basis and only after the individual request is approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

At the same time, the USA FREEDOM Act ensures that the federal government continues to have the tools it needs to identify and intercept attacks.

The bill provides needed emergency authority to national security officials if there is an immediate national security threat but still requires the government to run the request by the court within seven days.

The USA FREEDOM Act increases the transparency of our intelligence-gathering programs by creating a panel of legal experts to help ensure the court adequately considers privacy concerns and constitutional rights of Americans when reviewing the government’s request for records.

It also requires the Attorney General to conduct a declassification review of each decision, order, or opinion of the court that includes a significant construction or interpretation of the law and mandates that the government report the number of orders issued, modified, or denied by the court annually.

Last year’s national security leaks have also had a commercial and financial impact on American technology companies that have provided these records. They’ve experienced backlash from both American and foreign consumers and they’ve lost their competitive edge in the global marketplace.

In January of this year, the Justice Department entered into a settlement with several companies to permit new ways to report data concerning requests for customer information under FISA. The USA FREEDOM Act builds upon this settlement, allowing tech companies to publicly report national security requests from the government to inform their American and foreign customers.

The terrorist threat is real and ongoing. We must always be cognizant of the threats we face and have the tools needed to prevent terrorist attacks.

At the same time, Congress must ensure that the laws enacted protect our civil liberties. While circumstances have changed since the days of our Founding Fathers, the principles that guide us remain.

Our government, elected by the people, must provide for the common defense and simultaneously secure the blessings of liberty now and for the generations to come.