Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Conyers Welcomes Obama Administration’s Steps Toward Surveillance Reform

(WASHINGTON) – Today, media outlets reported that the White House would propose legislation that would allow the NSA to obtain individual phone records only with the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This morning, the leadership of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence introduced legislation to end bulk collection but allows the government to continue to seize phone records without individualized judicial approval. Although neither proposal goes as far as the USA FREEDOM Act - introduced by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) - to roll back warrantless surveillance and protect civil liberties, both plans represent an acknowledgement that the government’s bulk collection programs must come to an end. As the news was made public, Congressman Conyers issued the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
"Over the past year, the American public has become increasingly aware of the government’s sweeping surveillance capabilities. For some time, the public has urged the National Security Agency (NSA) to end its bulk collection of telephone metadata. Last night, President Obama acknowledged these concerns with a legislative proposal to end bulk collection and - critically - to require judicial approval before the NSA demands an individual’s telephone records. Although the details are still forthcoming, I welcome the President’s commitment to ending bulk collection and reining in dragnet surveillance programs. I look forward to reviewing the specific details of the proposal and working with the Administration on this important matter,” said Conyers.

“This morning, Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence also joined the consensus that bulk collection of telephone metadata must end. While I welcome the fact that two steadfast advocates of the intelligence community are willing to take a step in the right direction, I believe any reform effort must address the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215, under which the word ‘relevant’ was distorted to mean ‘everything.’ Section 215 was never intended to permit bulk collection, and any correction to the statute must correct this clear error.

“Today marks the next step towards genuine surveillance reform, and I look forward to working with both President Obama and our colleagues on the Intelligence Committee to achieve that worthy aim.”

The USA FREEDOM Act, co-authored by Congressman Conyers, Congressman Sensenbrenner, and Chairman Leahy in the Senate, would increase transparency, introduce a public advocate to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and end bulk collection once and for all. More than 130 members in the House - evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and including a majority of the House Judiciary Committee - have cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act. The House Judiciary Committee is the committee of primary jurisdiction for any reform to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Representative Conyers has previously called on the Committee to markup this legislation.
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