WASHINGTON - Today, during Markup of H.R. 2048, the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015, Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) delivered the following remarks, as prepared for delivery:
|Dean of the U.S. House|
John Conyers, Jr.
“Almost exactly one year ago, this Committee met to consider an earlier version of the USA FREEDOM Act.
“That earlier version—like the version we later considered on the House floor, and the version before us this morning—was far from perfect.
“But this Committee recognized one year ago that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. We voted unanimously to support last year’s measure, and I ask my colleagues for the same unanimous show of support today.
“Why must we make such a strong showing?
“First, we must act decisively to end dragnet surveillance in the United States. The ban on bulk collection in this bill turns on the idea of a ‘specific selection term.’ The government may no longer ask for all records merely because some of them may be relevant.
“From now on, they must instead use a term that specifically identifies a person, account, entity, address, or personal device as the basis for production.
“This bill improves on last year’s effort by further requiring that the selection term also limit the scope of production as narrowly as possible. It also explicitly prohibits the use of very broad terms—like ‘area code 202’ or ‘Michigan’—to satisfy this requirement.
“For years, the government has misread the plain text of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and other statutes to justify surveillance programs that far exceed any authority granted by Congress.
“A vote for this bill rejects that reading of the law. It is necessary and proper that we do so today. We must also act swiftly to adopt the many other reforms included in this legislation.
“In the nearly 40 years since the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the government has advanced its legal theories ex parte, in camera, and in secret. This bill corrects that practice—because, in this country, there is no such thing as secret law.
“The USA FREEDOM Act requires the government to declassify and publish all novel and significant opinions of the court.
“The bill also creates a panel of experts to advise the court on the protection of privacy and civil liberties, communications technology, and other legal and technical matters.
“In significant cases, the court must either appoint such an expert, or explain in writing why it has declined to do so. These experts will provide an important check on the government, and finally give the court an opportunity to hear an opposing argument.
“These changes—along with robust reporting requirements for the government, and flexible reporting options for private companies—mean that the public will now know far more about how these surveillance authorities are actually used.
“This legislation makes many other timely changes. And although we will not consider every reform I had hoped to include, this version of the USA FREEDOM Act is an obvious improvement over last year’s product, and a vast improvement over current law.
“Finally, I urge my colleagues to support this bill because the House Judiciary Committee must lead the Congress in these matters. The House looks to this Committee first for a reason. We are the proper forum for a complex discussion about privacy and civil liberties.
“We believe that it is possible to have an open, honest conversation about the tools our government uses to keep us safe.
“We believe that this conversation includes a serious look at whether those tools accord with our national values.
“We believe that public debate on core questions of privacy and free association not only builds confidence in our government, but lends credibility and resilience to a national security infrastructure that is built to last.
“There will be members of the House and Senate who oppose this bill because it does not include every reform to surveillance law we can imagine. And there will be others who oppose it because it includesany changes to existing surveillance programs. But here, today, in this Committee, we will once again strike the balance that leadership entails.
“The underlying provisions of the PATRIOT Act expire in a matter of days. Diehards from either end of the political spectrum will want us to march to the brink. Mr. Chairman, there is a better way.
“This bill represents a reasonable consensus. It makes substantive reforms. It ends dragnet surveillance, and it does so without diminishing our overall ability to protect this country. It has earned the support of both privacy advocates and the intelligence community. In short, it beats brinksmanship by a longshot.
“I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your willingness to work with Mr. Sensenbrenner, Mr. Nadler, and myself to reintroduce a stronger version of the USA FREEDOM Act. I urge my colleagues to give this bill the fullest possible support, and I yield back.”