Friday, October 23, 2015

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member Full Committee Hearing on “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation”

“Today, we welcome Director James Comey of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for his second appearance before the House Judiciary Committee since taking office on September 4, 2013.

“The FBI’s mission is a complex undertaking: to protect the United States from terrorism, to enforce our criminal laws, and to lead the nation’s law enforcement community.

“And yet, as vast as this mission seems, I think nearly all of the discussion we will have here today can be distilled into one word: trust.

“Trust in the executive branch to respect and secure our privacy and our civil liberties.  Trust in the FBI as an institution.  Trust in the state and local agencies that police our communities.

“In many respects, Director Comey, I think we agree on this point.

“For example: you have spoken powerfully about ‘the hard truths’ we must keep in mind when we discuss race and policing—and particularly when we discuss the use of force by police officers.

“I am told that you require all new agents to study the FBI’s interaction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to visit his memorial at the Tidal Basin.

“I am also told that you keep on your desk a copy of Robert Kennedy’s approval of J. Edgar Hoover’s request to place a wiretap on Dr. King. 

“These are powerful reminders of a troubling and not-too-distant history.  It is not difficult to draw a line from that era to recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and Cleveland.

“And that is why your work to build trust between police and our communities is so important. 

“Nowhere is that effort more apparent than in your call for better data on the use of force by police. 

“Although the FBI is the national custodian of crime statistics, that data is reported voluntarily and inconsistently. 

“You have been honest in your assessment that official statistics in this area are so incomplete as to be ‘embarrassing and ridiculous.’

“We need a better understanding of what drives police use of force, and we cannot study the problem without reliable data.  I urge you to continue to press your state and local partners for consistent and accurate reporting to the National Incident-Based Reporting System.

“Just as we must rebuild trust in certain state and local law enforcement units, we will look to your testimony today to reassure us about a number of programs and activities at the FBI.

“Earlier this year, the public noticed a small plane flying in a tight pattern directly over the site of unrest West Baltimore.  Other reports from other parts of the country—including my district in Detroit—raised questions about similar aircraft. 

“The FBI has since confirmed the existence of its aerial surveillance program.

“On June 3, fifteen members of this Committee wrote you to ask for more information about this program.  Your team provided our staff with a briefing soon thereafter.

“But the public still has many questions about aerial surveillance, and you have said that there is a great deal of misinformation about this program.  I would like you to use your testimony to explain, from your perspective, how this program works and why we should trust the Bureau to operate it.

“Similarly, I think we would benefit from a fuller discussion of encryption and what you have called the ‘Going Dark’ problem.

“Over the past year, you have called for a congressional mandate to give the FBI special access to otherwise encrypted data.

“I have a difficult time understanding this proposal.  Every technical expert who has spoken on this issue has concluded that it is technically impossible to provide this access without also compromising our security against bad actors.

“Even if it were technically feasible, it would cost our technology sector billions of dollars to implement the scheme—and perhaps billions more from loss of business overseas, where U.S. government surveillance programs have already taken a toll on the industry.

“And even if it were technically feasible and easy to implement, a new rule for U.S. companies would not succeed in keeping bad actors from using unbreakable encryption—which is open source, free, and widely available from companies based overseas.

“As Chairman Goodlatte argued when we had this debate in 1999: ‘Only by allowing the use of strong encryption, not only domestically but internationally as well, can we hope to make the Internet a safe and secure environment.’

“I agree with that sentiment, you have made similar public statements, and I hope that you can help us to reconcile that view with your call for special access.

“Finally, because rigorous oversight is necessary for public trust, I hope that you will commit today to full compliance with the Inspector General Act.

“For the past five years, the FBI has resisted the clear mandate of that law.  The Inspector General of the Department of Justice is to have timely access to every document he requires to carry out his duties. 

“Noncompliance has real consequences.  This Committee waited until February of this year to receive a report about the FBI’s use of Section 215 orders from 2007 to 2009.  The public waited until May for the unclassified version. 

“In the middle of a national debate on government surveillance, we waited six years for critical information.  This delay is unacceptable.
“I understand that there are other interpretations of the law.  Congress will soon clarify the matter, likely in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion. 
“But in the meantime, Director Comey, I hope that the Bureau will step away from its litigating position and give the Office of the Inspector General the access it requires and deserves.

“Your job is a complex and demanding one, Director.  We appreciate your being here today.  I look forward to your testimony, and I yield back.”

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