Our nation was founded on the ideals that the federal government exists to defend our citizens from attack and that the government must be restrained from infringing upon individual liberty. In the 21st century, an age in which we continually face terrorism threats, the government's foreign surveillance powers are often viewed as presenting a tension between these two principles. However, protecting national security and securing individual liberty need not conflict with one another.
We have an opportunity to reform one of the intelligence community's most important national security tools to ensure it protects lives and civil liberties.
The House Judiciary Committee has primary jurisdiction over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Over the past several years, we have had tremendous, bipartisan success in ensuring our national security tools operate in accord with the principles enshrined in our Constitution. This year, the House Judiciary Committee has been hard at work crafting legislation to reform and reauthorize FISA Section 702, which is set to expire in December.
FISA Section 702 targets the communications of non-U.S. persons outside of the United States in order to protect the homeland from foreign enemies wishing us harm. It reportedly contributes to one-quarter of all National Security Agency surveillance and has been used on multiple occasions to detect and prevent insidious terrorist plots against our country.
While the statute only allows this authority to be used to target non-U.S. persons located outside of the U.S., the Section 702 surveillance program does incidentally collect information about Americans when they communicate with the foreign targets of Section 702 surveillance. That is why the program must be reauthorized with reforms to better safeguard Americans' civil liberties and strengthen national security.
Last week, a dozen Republican and Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee joined me in introducing the USA Liberty Act. This bipartisan bill preserves the core purpose of Section 702: the collection of communications of targeted non-U.S. persons to identify and thwart terrorist plots against our nation. The bill also creates a new framework of protections and transparency requirements to ensure the government's use of Section 702 accords with principles of due process and privacy with respect to Americans. Here are some key provisions of the bill.
The USA Liberty Act addresses concerns about national security tools being used to advance criminal prosecutions in the U.S. The legislation prohibits law enforcement agencies from accessing content collected under Section 702 to search for evidence against Americans in routine criminal investigations without a court order based upon probable cause.
The bill also codifies for six years NSA's prohibition on the collection of so-called "about" communications, where a foreign "selector," such as an email address, is referenced in a communication. This temporary prohibition allows Congress to revisit the issue after six years. The NSA ended this practice because it could not prevent certain compliance incidents involving U.S. person information under its current technological constraints.
Further, the legislation contains new accountability and transparency requirements to prevent government abuse of the "unmasking" of U.S. identities, which has been a source of concern for many Americans. Agencies will be required to document unmasking requests and approvals and report to Congress on that information, so we can exercise our constitutional oversight responsibilities and protect privacy.
The USA Liberty Act also increases oversight of foreign intelligence collection, particularly under FISA Section 702. The bill contains a number of reporting requirements, including providing Congress a biannual update on the number of Americans whose communications are incidentally collected.
And importantly, the legislation enhances national security, not only by ensuring the purpose of Section 702 remains intact, but by providing increased penalties for those who intentionally mishandle classified information and encouraging the intelligence community to share information with each other and with our allies who face similar national security threats.
With this critical national security tool set to expire at the end of the year, Congress must reauthorize and reform FISA Section 702 to ensure this authority continues to protect our lives and our liberties. Leaders of the House Judiciary Committee are committed to working with the Trump administration, the intelligence community, privacy advocates, and members of Congress to ensure we do just that.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is chair of the House Judiciary Committee. You can follow him on Twitter here: @RepGoodlatte.
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