WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, today delivered the following remarks on the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a critical national security tool. The legislation, which passed the House by a vote of 256-164, represents a good first step at reforming Section 702.
Chairman Goodlatte: As you all know, the Judiciary Committee worked diligently, for a year, on legislation that does two things: (1) protect Americans’ civil liberties by requiring a court order to access Section 702 data during domestic criminal investigations; and (2) reauthorize the 702 program, which is our nation’s most indispensable national security tool.
We achieved that, by passing the USA Liberty Act in the House Judiciary Committee last year by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote, which is no easy task. However, we were able to responsibly balance civil liberties with national security.
The bill we will vote on today was drafted in the spirit of the USA Liberty Act. It is not perfect, and the process getting here was not ideal, but the bill requires, for the first time, a warrant to access 702-collected communications of U.S. persons in criminal investigations.
Moreover, in routine criminal cases, when the FBI accesses U.S. person communications that were incidentally collected, without first obtaining a warrant, the FBI will not be permitted to use those communications in a criminal prosecution. This will prevent a national security tool from advancing run-of-the-mill criminal prosecutions.
These are meaningful reforms.
The bill that was presented to us before Christmas, with its “optional warrant” construct, was not real reform. The bill we are debating today, however, contains meaningful reforms. I would have preferred to include additional reforms, but I cannot stress to my colleagues enough that our choice cannot be between a perfect reform bill and expiration of this program. The 702 program is far too important for that. With this bill, we can have meaningful reform and reauthorization.
In its current form, this bill will pass the Senate.
I also want to caution everyone that we cannot go too far in seeking to alter this program. There is an amendment that will be offered, sponsored by Mr. Amash and Ms. Lofgren, which would prevent the FBI from ever querying its 702 database using a US person term.
Imagine the FBI getting a tip from a flight instructor whose student acts suspiciously by expressing great interest in learning how to take off and fly a plane but has no interest in learning how to land the plane. This could be innocent behavior, but don’t we want law enforcement to at least be able to perform a search to see if they already have in their possession any communications between the student and a foreign actor involved in organizing terrorist plots? The Judiciary Committee-passed bill would have allowed the search, and allowed law enforcement to view the metadata without a warrant, while requiring a warrant to view the content of the communications.
The Amash/Lofgren amendment, which was rejected in the Judiciary Committee, goes too far and would prevent such a search from even being done. It would thus kill this critical program by preventing the FBI from even looking at its own databases without a warrant, rendering it ineffective in preventing terrorist attacks and stifling its ability to gather necessary intelligence. It must not be adopted.
I will vote to support this bill. I will oppose the Amash/Lofgren amendment. I urge my colleagues to join me. Vote for reform and reauthorization.
I reserve the balance of my time.