11.18.14

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the USA FREEDOM ACT of 2014

It has been more than a year since Americans first learned that the government had been secretly sweeping up the telephone records of innocent Americans – regardless of whether there was any connection whatsoever to terrorism or criminal activity.  I introduced the original USA FREEDOM Act last October with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, and the Judiciary Committee held six public hearings to address these issues. 

During those hearings, we learned that the bulk phone records collection program had not – as previously advertised – thwarted 54 terrorist plots, or even dozens, or even a few.  In fact, we learned through our public hearings that the number was maybe one.  That is an important fact for those who now argue that the NSA’s bulk phone records program is somehow essential to our fight against ISIL or other terrorists.  Our bill enhances privacy protections and ends indiscriminate data collection by the NSA, but also preserves the essential tools necessary for our intelligence community to protect our nation.  That is the simple truth that cannot be obfuscated by scare tactics. 

As someone who worked in law enforcement, and as a native of Vermont where the right to privacy is cherished, I know that we can have both liberty and security.  The USA FREEDOM Act provides for commonsense reforms to government surveillance, and promotes greater accountability and transparency of the government’s surveillance programs, and it improves the FISA Court.

This is a carefully crafted bill that builds on the work of the House of Representatives, and has the unprecedented support of the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, the Director of the NSA, American technology companies, and privacy and civil liberties groups across the political spectrum – ranging from the ACLU and EFF to the NRA and TechFreedom.  Lawmakers from all parts of the political spectrum – from the right to left – support this bill because they know it is a reasonable and responsible compromise.  There is no reason why we should not proceed to a debate on this important bill.

I understand that some members want votes on a whole host of issues in the waning hours of this Congress.  Senator Wyden has an amendment that relates directly to the bill – and I will support his right to offer that amendment.  But time is short, and we cannot get bogged down in unnecessary procedural votes and debate about unrelated amendments.  Senators should allow us to get onto this bill and help us reach an agreement on a limited list of germane amendments to be considered.  If we work together, we can finish the bill by the end of the week. 

We cannot afford to delay action on these reforms until next year. As the ACLU and the NRA pointed out yesterday in a joint op-ed in The Washington Times, “every day that the Senate fails to vote on these reforms is a day in which law-abiding citizens have reason to fear that the constitutional protections so dear to the Founders and so crucial to the functioning of a free society no longer apply.”

Every day that we fail to act is another day that American businesses are harmed.  One conservative think tank estimated that the “mistrust engendered by the NSA’s programs could cost the U.S. technology industry between $35 billion and $180 billion over the next three years.”  That is a staggering figure.

Senators should listen to the intelligence community professionals who protect our nation every day, and who are calling for swift passage of this bill.  Ask the Director of National Intelligence.  Ask the Attorney General.  They will tell you that it is better for our national security, and better for our fight against terrorism if we pass the USA FREEDOM Act.

This is a reasonable compromise that all Senators should support, and I thank the Majority Leader for bringing this legislation to the floor.  And I thank Senators Dean Heller, Mike Lee, Dick Durbin, Al Franken, and Richard Blumenthal for their steadfast work on this bill. 

Our bill is good for privacy and civil liberties, and upholds our Constitution.  It is good for American business.  It is good for national security.  And most importantly, it is the right thing to do on behalf of Vermonters and the rest of the American people.  I urge all Senators to vote in favor of the cloture motion pending before us.

I ask unanimous consent that the Statement of Administration Policy in support of the USA FREEDOM Act of 2014 be printed in the Record.

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