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Bob Goodlatte: Intelligence programs should protect civil liberties, national security

bob-goodlatte-afp2For the last several months, the House Judiciary Committee has conducted an ongoing review of our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs.  Last summer’s unauthorized public release of these classified programs by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has sparked a national debate about the extent of the programs and whether they pose a threat to Americans’ civil liberties and privacy. Since then, there have been numerous proposals to significantly reform or end these programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

Following last year’s leaks, Obama administration officials appeared before the Judiciary Committee and other committees in Congress to defend these programs and urged Congress not to shut them down, including the bulk metadata collection program operated under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.  But just two weeks ago, President Obama announced that he supports “a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.”

I am glad the President has finally acknowledged what I and many others concluded long ago, namely, that the Section 215 bulk metadata program is in need of significant reform in order to restore the trust of the American people and to protect Americans’ civil liberties.

Just a few days ago, I convened a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over how these programs legally operate, to examine the various recommendations for reform and discuss their impact on America’s national security and their value in enhancing civil liberty protections.

Even after this hearing and listening to the different perspectives of the witnesses, many questions remain.  The five-year storage of bulk metadata by the NSA is arguably the most critical and the most controversial aspect of the Section 215 program.  However, transferring storage to private companies, as some have suggested, could raise more privacy concerns than it solves.  We need look no further than the recent Target or Yahoo breaches to know that private information held by private companies is susceptible to cyber-attacks.  In considering reforms, it is critical that the protection of information is ensured.

As we continue to review these proposals, trust is the number one issue we must address.  While the United States needs to have good intelligence programs to gather information that will protect our communities from terrorist attacks, we also have a responsibility to guarantee strong protections of the rights of Americans.  That is the mission of the House Judiciary Committee moving forward.  Any reforms Congress enacts must ensure our nation’s intelligence collection programs effectively protect our national security and include real protections for Americans’ civil liberties, robust oversight, and additional transparency.


augusta free press
augusta free press