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Yarmuth Statement on FISA Amendments Act

Congressman Yarmuth's Statement on FISA Bill that passed House by Wide Margin

"The House of Representatives recently approved the FISA Amendments Act, a bipartisan compromise that will modernize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to strengthen our national security and restore constitutional rights.   Unfortunately, media reports have erroneously portrayed this bill as identical to the Protect America Act  -- a bill I opposed because it allowed the President to continue to circumvent the law and our civil liberty protections.

"The FISA Amendments Act, however, is significantly different than Protect America Act and includes critically important changes. The FISA Amendments Act will require that every wiretap have a warrant, thereby ending the Bush Administration’s era of illegal warrantless surveillance.  It imposes strict restrictions on the scope of any warrant, ending the no-limit, opened-ended warrants used by this Administration.   It implements protections to stop reverse targeting, a tactic to intentionally spy on Americans, without a warrant, by first targeting a foreigner they have contact with  -- a marked difference from the Protect America Act.  The bill contains new legal protections for U.S. citizens abroad, requiring an individual warrant for every American the government intends to wiretap   It also protects our 4th Amendment rights by removing a provision of the Protect America Act that could have permitted the government to engage in warrantless domestic physical searches of homes, offices, computer files, etc.

"The FISA Amendments Act provides critical new oversight and accountability requirements.  It reestablishes, in no uncertain terms, judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future.  It restores FISA and our criminal code as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance – making it clear that the President cannot bypass the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people.  

"The legislation calls for a comprehensive investigation of the President’s warrantless surveillance program, which will be conducted by the Inspector Generals of the Department of Justice, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Security Agency, Department of Defense.  The results of the investigation will be provided to Congress, and, if it is discovered that any government official violated the law, they will face criminal prosecution.

"The bottom line is that the FISA Amendments Act corrects nearly every flaw in the current foreign surveillance law.  However, it did not include what we had hoped for on the issue of immunity for telecommunication companies.  To be fair, the bill does not grant blanket immunity, but requires that the District Courts review civil cases and determine whether or not there is substantial evidence to support liability protection for the telecommunications companies.  There is no immunity for telecommunications companies or government officials for any criminal actions.  If criminal offensives were committed, the perpetrators will be prosecuted.  I oppose this provision because it does not go far enough, and had we been able to vote separately on the immunity compromise, I would have voted against it.  

"However, I did not have that option.  And it was clear that no matter how good the bill was, it had no chance of being enacted into law without some negotiation on the issue of immunity for the telecommunications companies.  

"Ultimately, I reached the conclusion that the bill includes the tools our intelligence community needs now to keep our nation safe from terrorist attacks, it includes the civil liberty protections our nation was founded on long ago, and it holds our government accountable for its actions, past and future, through strengthened judicial review and congressional oversight. It may not have struck the balance we wanted, but it struck the balance needed to protect our nation and our citizens -- and that is why I supported its passage.

"I remain fully committed to protecting our national security and safeguarding our civil liberties.  I strongly believe that we must never compromise our principles  --  but we must also embrace the compromises that allow us to maintain those principles."