Bob Goodlatte: USA Freedom Act protects civil liberties and national security

bob-goodlatte-afpAlmost two years ago, we learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting, in bulk, Americans’ telephone records. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, countless telephone metadata records are flowing into the NSA. Since then, the American people have made it clear that we need to rein in our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs and end this assault on civil liberties. I wholeheartedly agree that this program threatens Americans’ civil liberties and privacy.

Despite President Obama’s announced changes to this NSA program last year as well as the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent ruling that the government’s bulk collection program exceeds what is authorized under the law, the bulk collection of records has not ceased and will not cease unless Congress acts to shut it down. Last year, the House passed legislation to do just that, but the Senate failed to act. Allowing the NSA’s bulk collection program to continue operating in this way is not an option. This past week, the House acted once again to put an end to it.

The USA Freedom Act, which passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 338 to 88, contains the most sweeping set of reforms to government surveillance practices in nearly 40 years. This strong, bipartisan bill ends bulk collection once and for all, enhances civil liberties protections, increases transparency for both American businesses and the government, and provides national security officials targeted tools to keep America safe.

The terrorist threat is real and ongoing – we must always be aware of the threats we face. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks unless we can first identify and then intercept terrorists. At the same time, Congress must ensure that the laws we have enacted are always protecting our civil liberties. The USA Freedom Act takes both of these concerns into account. For example, it closes loopholes that make it difficult for the government to track suspected foreign terrorists, such as members of ISIS, as they enter and leave the United States. It also creates a panel of legal experts on matters of privacy and civil liberties to advise the court as it reviews the government’s requests for information.

Americans’ liberty and America’s security must co-exist. These fundamental concepts are not mutually exclusive. They are embedded in the very fabric that makes this nation great and that makes this nation an example for the world. The USA Freedom Act is essential in maintaining high levels of civil liberties protections and national security. Reforming our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs is not a partisan issue, it’s an American issue. Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate as well as President Obama have come together in support of this historic legislation. The Senate should not delay reform again.

Bob Goodlatte represents Virginia’s Sixth District in Congress.

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