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CONYERS STATEMENT ON THE USA LIBERTY ACT

Nov 8, 2017

Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers Jr. (D-MI.) delivered the following remarks the House Judiciary Committee’s Markup of H.R. 3989, the USA Liberty Act.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to begin by acknowledging the opposition to this bill.
There are many in the civil liberties community who fear that H.R. 3989, the USA Liberty Act, does not accomplish every reform we had hoped to see.
They are rightly concerned that the government has used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in ways that Congress had never contemplated, and that the public would never tolerate.
Others fear the bill goes too far. For the most part, these critics are patriots charged with keeping us safe, and whose greatest fear is somehow falling short in that responsibility.
To those in the civil liberties community, I would point to all of the good work done in this bill.
For years, our members have expressed concern that information collected under Section 702 is repurposed for criminal investigations and other projects that have nothing whatsoever to do with national security.
This bill will end that practice. If a law enforcement agency wants access to this information, they must first obtain a warrant based on individualized suspicion and probable cause.
We have also, for years, opposed so-called “about” collection — the gathering of communications that simply mention foreign targets — both because Congress never intended for Section 702 to be used that way, and because it swept in so much unrelated content.
Twice, the FISA court has taken a hard look at “about” collection. Twice, the court found it deficient on Fourth Amendment grounds, taking the government to task for an institutional “lack of candor” that allowed the deficiencies to persist for years without correction.
In March, faced with the prospect of losing Section 702 altogether, the NSA voluntarily ended the practice. Our bill would prohibit that type of surveillance by law.
The bill also creates a new regime of transparency and accountability.
It encourages the court to appoint an amicus to its annual hearings on Section 702 — someone to push back against the government’s more creative legal arguments.
Any agency that has access to Section 702 information must publish their minimization procedures.
The government will owe both Congress and the public a never-before-seen level of detail about how they use this statute.
Have we accomplished every reform I had hoped to see? We have not.
But this legislation represents real, achievable, substantive reform.
I am proud of this work, and Chairman Goodlatte and I will fight to protect this package of reforms as it makes its way to the floor.
To the men and women of the intelligence community, I would point to the extraordinary lengths we have taken to ensure that you have the tools you need to analyze foreign intelligence information.
I know that many are uncomfortable with the prospect of reform — anyreform — not because they want to spy on Americans, but because they want to protect us from real and present threats to our country.
But there is a reason that it falls to this Committee — and not to the intelligence committees, or to the agencies themselves — to build the legal framework for these powerful surveillance authorities.
In this room, a step or two removed from the urgency of every threat that comes across the screen, we can have an honest conversation about how these authorities accord with our values.
That is precisely what has happened here. For months, we have examined Section 702 in a sober and serious light. We have heard from government agents, legal experts, technology and communication companies, and the best of civil society.
At the end of our discussion, we have reached consensus that Section 702 should be reauthorized — but if, and only if, it can be brought better in line with values like privacy, transparency, and due process.
Which brings me to my concluding thought:
When we discuss powers and programs like these, it can be tempting to frame the discussion as balancing act between security and privacy.
I find that framing a false choice.
The central thesis of the USA Liberty Act is that we can have both security and privacy. We can give the government the tools it needs and do so in a way that better respects our core values.
We proved that we could do so in the last Congress, when we worked together to pass the USA Freedom Act.
We will do so again today.
I want to thank the Chairman for his leadership on this issue.
I also want to thank each of the original cosponsors of this bill — Democrats and Republicans alike — for lending their support to this important project. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation, and I yield the balance of my time.
115th Congress