Bob Goodlatte: Maintaining protection of civil liberties

bob-goodlatte-afp2Throughout America’s history, our country has been engaged in a profound debate on the limits of government. In the Federalist Papers, the Founders argued passionately for a federal government that would protect the American people from foreign threats. At the same time, they struggled to create a structure to contain and control that government in order to protect the God-given rights of the American people. In drafting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they maintained a careful balance between preserving civil liberties and protecting our citizens from enemy threats. However, last year’s unauthorized disclosure of the National Security Agency’s data collection programs revealed federal actions conflicting with these principles.

Just days ago, the House of Representatives approved historic legislation to rein in the NSA’s sweeping intelligence-gathering programs and end the bulk collection of Americans’ records by the federal government once and for all. As the House Judiciary Committee worked toward reforming our foreign intelligence-gathering programs, we knew that both our national security and civil liberties were at stake in the debate, but that both could be protected. The USA FREEDOM Act balances these concerns, protecting our cherished individual liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights and preserving our nation’s fundamental duty to keep its citizens safe from foreign enemies.

The USA FREEDOM Act increases the transparency of our intelligence-gathering programs. It protects Americans’ civil liberties by making clear that the government cannot acquire Americans’ records in bulk and puts real, effective limits on what information the government can gather. The limitations created by the USA FREEDOM Act prevent overreach by protecting records of all types, including medical records, email records, telephone records, and firearm purchase records. Under the legislation, the government must get permission from the court to get records on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, the bill ensures that the federal government continues to have the tools it needs to identify and intercept attacks as a part of counterterrorism efforts.

After nearly a year of collaboration on this issue, the USA FREEDOM Act passed the House with a very large bipartisan vote and also garnered a statement of strong support from the White House. In what often seems like an environment weighed down by disagreement over federal policies, this legislation is an example of members from both parties and all ideological backgrounds working together to fix an issue impacting every American.

Nearly 225 years after the U.S. Constitution was drafted, the principles in this founding document continue to guide us. I pray that the United States of America will remain a beacon of freedom to the world and a place where the principles of the Founders, including the commitment to individual liberties, will continue to live, protected and nourished for future generations.

Bob Goodlatte represents the Sixth District in Congress.

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