Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee 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 Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet 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.
Below are statements from Congressman Nadler and House Judiciary Committee leaders on yesterday's Committee passage of the USA Liberty Act.
IP Subcommittee Ranking Member Nadler: “The USA Liberty Act represents a real, bipartisan effort at instituting needed reforms to the 702 program, striking the appropriate balance of giving our intelligence agencies the tools they need to keep us safe while making sure individual liberty and privacy rights are better protected. It is critical that we are careful not to permit national security needs to outweigh and overrun the individual’s constitutional rights, which is why these reforms are so necessary and important. For the first time, the bill introduces a requirement for a warrant—based on probable cause—for criminal investigators to query 702-obtained information. In addition, the USA Liberty Act significantly curbs the amount of incidental information that can be searched, and, most importantly, institutes critical operational norms for the 702 program that make it more accountable, more transparent, and ultimately more effective. This legislation makes substantial progress in reforming government surveillance under Section 702, and I want to thank Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers for working in good faith on the USA Liberty Act. Congress will continue to play an important role in ensuring sufficient protections are in place for Americans’ individual privacy, and I look forward to being a part of that process going forward.”
Chairman Goodlatte: “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.”
Ranking Member Conyers: “For months, we have examined Section 702 and have reached consensus that Section 702 should be reauthorized if it can be brought better in line with values like privacy, transparency, and due process. The USA Liberty Act does just that. I’m proud of our bipartisan work to move this bill forward. The USA Liberty Act provides both security and privacy, and gives the government the tools it needs while bringing these programs back in line with our core values. I look forward to continuing to work in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that this bill passes the House of Representatives.”
Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner: “Finding the right balance between privacy rights and national security will be an ongoing challenge, especially because of the constant development of new and innovative technologies. It will require sustained attention from Congress and our intelligence communities, which is why the USA Liberty Act is critical. This bipartisan legislation balances privacy and security by requiring greater oversight, transparency, and accountability of the government’s surveillance powers while enabling our intelligence community to continue to utilize tools to keep Americans safe. It’s a measured balance between competing interests, and I look forward to it moving quickly through the legislative process.”
Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackson Lee: “The USA Liberty Act protects our national security while enhancing congressional oversight and transparency of the information gathering process. Nothing in this bill will undermine the intelligence community’s ability to gather foreign intelligence information or detect threats to the homeland. Instead, this bill will create a new framework of protections and transparency requirements to ensure that the government’s use of Section 702 accords with principles of privacy and due process.”
Representative Rutherford: “FISA is essential to our national security, but we must ensure that we also safeguard Americans’ civil liberties. The USA Liberty Act improves privacy protections for our citizens, while also maintaining national security. This important legislation appropriately balances privacy and security by requiring greater oversight and accountability. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for supporting this important piece of legislation and look forward to it being voted on by the entire House.”
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.