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FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Speaker, no one respects the gentleman from South Carolina more than I do, but I should advise him that it is incorrect to say that members of the Intelligence Committee didn't support my amendment to shorten the sunset period. I have the names of two of them in front of me right now. I also would advise him that the authority unquestionably affects United States persons, citizens on American soil, that their communications are regularly intercepted, and that would, I think, allow him to join in with some of the rationale for the resistance to this measure as it appears right now.

It's in that spirit that I point out to him that, with the lack of transparency and no oversight, the length of the measure is too long, and that this is being brought up under a closed rule was part of our objections. I think they're in good faith.

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Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us today extends the expiration date of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 from December 31, 2012 to December 31, 2017. I oppose this unwarranted long term extension because neither Congress nor the public yet have an adequate understanding of the impact this law has had on the privacy of American citizens.

The heart of the FISA Amendments Act is section 702, which authorizes the government to intercept the communications of people who are reasonably believed to be foreign persons outside of the U.S. On its face, the statute includes protections for American citizens who may be on the other end of these communications.

But section 702 does not require the government to obtain a warrant--and without more information about how the executive branch uses this authority, we cannot confirm that the privacy of U.S. citizens is adequately protected.

These concerns are more than theoretical. In 2009, the New York Times reported that the NSA had engaged in the ``overcollection'' of American communications in situations not permitted by law. The government assures us that this problem was an accident and has been corrected--but the report does not inspire confidence in the safeguards we have put in place.

More recently, in a July 26, 2011, letter to Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated that it is ``not reasonably possible'' to determine how many U.S. persons have had their communications intercepted under this law. Even if it is difficult to state an exact figure, it is hard to believe that the Director of National Intelligence cannot even guess. The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community didn't fare any better, and simply deferred to the non-answer provided earlier by the ODNI.

The public deserves better--and it is our responsibility to demand more information in the public record if the government will not provide it.

My colleagues prepared a series of amendments that would have addressed many of these basic oversight needs--without any risk to national security or the integrity of the underlying programs--but under this closed rule, we are not permitted to even debate these moderate changes to the bill on the floor. What is so dangerous about increased oversight that we cannot even debate an amendment?

If we require the government to provide us with unclassified reports, public summaries of key FISA court opinions, and an honest accounting of the number of Americans who have been affected by these programs, we will have gone a long way towards the responsible exercise of our oversight role.

And even if we cannot support these modest changes, we ought to amend this bill to provide for a shorter sunset. Meaningful oversight means revisiting these authorities before the winter of 2017. We cannot allow an entire presidential administration to pass before we discuss these authorities again--in the 115th Congress.

My amendment would have had the added benefit of linking this sunset to the three expiring provisions created by the USA PATRIOT Act. It would be to our benefit to consider the most controversial aspects of FISA all at once, instead of piecemeal over the course of the next decade. But under this closed process on the floor today, the House has been denied the opportunity to even consider this moderate change to the bill.

In conclusion, the government can and must do a better job of responding to our questions about privacy and other civil liberties. It can do so without risk to national security.

I have no doubt that these expiring authorities are important to the executive branch, but we should not let this opportunity pass without demanding reasonable, meaningful, and public oversight of a highly controversial law.

I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on H.R. 5949.

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