Comments Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Committee On The Judiciary, Following The President's National Security Speech

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January 17, 2014

[Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Friday responded to President Obama's announcement that he will work with Congress to improve oversight of government surveillance programs. Leahy is the lead Democratic coauthor of the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act, and earlier this week presided over a hearing featuring all five members of the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to discuss their recent recommendations to overhaul the government's surveillance authorities.]

"I commend the President for taking important steps to maintain our national security while protecting privacy rights and civil liberties – both here and abroad.  The President is helping to restore the nation's historic role as a beacon of individual freedoms, under the rule of law.  

"I am encouraged that the President has embraced the growing consensus that the Section 215 phone records program should not continue in its current form.  The bulk collection of Americans' phone records has not made us safer.  I look forward to working with the administration as it develops alternatives to this program and urge consideration of the privacy implications of any mandate that these records be held in the private sector.  I also welcome the transparency measures announced today, including reforms to the secrecy surrounding National Security Letters which are in line with reforms I have been pushing for years.

"The American people are inching toward greater understanding – and eventually, perhaps, consensus – about both the sweep and the implications of these programs.  When it comes to Americans' privacy rights, our technological prowess will always present dilemmas and challenges.  Simply because we can do something does not always mean that it makes sense to do it.  We need to clear-headedly evaluate what we gain from unleashing these technologies, as well as what we risk losing.  We must always recognize that in a democracy, government's role is to serve the people, not the other way around.

"In the wake of these announcements, Congress has important tasks ahead.  The President has ordered some significant changes, but more are needed.  Section 215 must still be amended, legislatively, to ensure it is not used for dragnet surveillance in the future, and we must fight to create an effective, institutional advocate at the FISA court.  I will continue to push for meaningful legislative reforms to our surveillance laws."

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