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FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SMITH of Texas. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, America and its allies continue to face national security threats from foreign nations, spies, and terrorist organizations. Our national security agencies must be able to conduct surveillance of foreign terrorists and others so we can stop them before they disable our defenses, carry out a plot against our country, or kill innocent Americans.

In 1978, Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to provide procedures for the domestic collection of foreign intelligence. To protect Americans' civil liberties, FISA created Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts comprised of sitting Federal court judges.

If the government needs to collect domestic information for national security purposes, it must first request permission from a FISA judge. This is limited to domestic information. FISA was never intended to apply to the collection of information from non-U.S. persons in foreign countries.

But advances in technology over the last 40 years have changed how overseas communications are transmitted. In 2006, then-Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell, stated that the intelligence community was not collecting approximately two-thirds of the foreign intelligence information that it collected prior to legal interpretations that required the government to obtain individualized FISA court orders for overseas surveillance. To solve the problem, in 2008, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act to reaffirm our longstanding intent that a court order is not required when a non-U.S. person outside the U.S. is targeted. The act continues the authority to collect intelligence from foreign targets located outside the United States.

The FISA Amendments Act both strengthens our national security and expands civil liberties protections for all Americans. The act requires an individualized court order for the government to target an American anywhere in the world. Under the FISA Amendments Act, the government cannot conduct any surveillance overseas without authorization. The government cannot target individuals unless there is a reasonable belief they are not in the United States, which the government must try to ascertain.

The government cannot intentionally acquire communications when the sender and recipient are both in the United States without an individualized court order from a FISA judge. The government cannot reverse-target individuals overseas in order to monitor those in the United States. This means that the government cannot target a U.S. person simply by monitoring a non-U.S. person that the U.S. person is talking to. And for the first time in history, the government must obtain an individualized court order from the FISA court to target Americans outside the United States.

Foreign surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act is subject to extensive oversight by the administration and Congress. Every 60 days, Justice Department national security officials and the Director of National Intelligence conduct onsite reviews of surveillance conducted pursuant to the FISA Amendments Act. In addition, the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence conduct detailed assessments of compliance with court-approved targeting and minimization procedures and provide these amendments to Congress twice a year.

The administration also is required to submit to the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees a copy of any FISA court order opinion or decision. It must also submit the accompanying pleadings, briefs, and other memoranda of law from national security officials within the intelligence community that relate to a significant construction or interpretation of any provision of FISA.

This law will expire at the end of this year unless Congress reauthorizes it. President Obama has identified reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act as the top legislative priority of the intelligence community and requests Congress to extend the law for 5 years. H.R. 5949 is a bipartisan piece of legislation to do just that, extend the FISA Amendments Act to December 31, 2017.

Foreign terrorists continue to search for new ways to attack America. Foreign nations continue to spy on America, to plot cyberattacks, and attempt to steal sensitive information from our military and private sector industries. They are committed to the destruction of our country, and their methods of communication are constantly evolving.

We have a solemn responsibility to ensure that the intelligence community can gather the information it needs to protect our country and protect our citizens. This bipartisan bill ensures that our country will be able to identify and prevent threats to our national security without sacrificing the civil liberties of American citizens.

I urge my colleagues to join me in support of this bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Mr. Speaker, the vote we cast on the FISA Amendments Act tonight will be one of the most important votes we cast in Congress, and it is appropriate we do so during the week of 9/11.

The FISA Amendments Act will continue to allow us to conduct surveillance of terrorists, spies and others who would do us harm. A FISA court order is required if the target is a U.S. citizen, but not if the individual is outside of the United States and not a U.S. citizen.

The FISA Amendments Act was first passed in 2008 overwhelmingly, and it expires at the end of December. This bill extends the law for 5 years. The FISA Amendments Act is a top priority of the intelligence community. It was supported by the Bush administration in 2008 and is strongly endorsed by the Obama administration now. This is a bipartisan bill that enables us to vote to both neutralize threats to our national security and protect the civil liberties of American citizens.

I urge my colleagues to support this bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.


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