On July 4th our thoughts turn towards our Nation’s proud history, and the hard fought rights and freedoms that we all enjoy. This Independence Day we honor those traditions, yet in the wake of the reported twin controversies surrounding the National Security Agency’s mass Internet and telecommunications surveillance, we must take a step back to question whether our security programs have gone too far. In combating the seemingly endless “War on Terror,” have we traded away too many of our fundamental rights – to privacy and due process amongst others – to enable a sprawling surveillance state?
Regrettably, my Republican colleague Justin Amash and I believe that we have reached this tipping point. And without Congressional action, it may be too late to turn the tide against the federal government’s encroachment on our civil liberties.
It is for these reasons that we have introduced H.R. 2399, the “Limiting Internet and Blanket Electronic Review of Telecommunications and Email Act,” or the LIBERT-E Act for short.
The intent of this legislation is twofold: to shine needed light on the secretive processes by which the federal government is able to snoop on American citizens, and to raise the standard for any federal agency engaging in surveillance activities to prevent the mass collection of private information. These two main components of the LIBERT-E Act reform both the PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments (FISA) Act.
The first reform, in Section 2 of the LIBERT-E Act, modifies access to certain records for foreign intelligence and terrorism investigations. Specifically, Section 2 would amend Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to prevent the mass collection of records that are not explicitly relevant to an authorized foreign intelligence investigation, terrorism investigation, or covert intelligence activities.
Presently, to obtain a court order under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the government only needs to show that the records are “relevant” to an investigation. News reports suggest, however, that the government’s view of what is “relevant” includes the records of every telephone call. Section 2 of the LIBERT-E Act would raise the relevancy standard for the government to one requiring “specific and articulable” facts on a given investigation. In addition, Section 2 mandates that for any records to be collected they must be material to the investigation and pertain only to the individual under investigation.
Simply put, the government should be required to show that the records it seeks are in fact material to a particular concern.
The second set of reforms that the LIBERT-E Act puts into place deals with transparency. For too long, a secretive FISA court has essentially rubber-stamped all of the NSA’s surveillance requests. Section 3 of the LIBERT-E Act requires the Attorney General to make available to the public unclassified summaries of significant decisions by the FISA court, within 180 days of Congress receiving them. At the Congressional level, Section 3 also mandates that the Attorney General makes all information provided to the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees available to every Member of Congress. Both of these measures will take the entirety of the decision-making process out of the backroom and provide needed public, as well as Congressional, oversight.
But for these reforms to see the light of day, we need your support. As thousands of activists across the country rally online today to protest against the NSA’s dragnet surveillance, we ask you for your support. In just 9 pages of commonsense provisions, the LIBERT-E Act would begin to meaningfully scale back overreaching intelligence programs. With powerful interests supporting the status quo, it will take a grassroots movement to make legislative change possible.