Chairman John Conyers Delivers Democratic Radio Address
February 23, 2008
Congressman John Conyers (MI-14), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, delivered the Democratic Radio Address this morning. In his address, Chairman Conyers discussed Democratic efforts to work in bipartisan manner to pass legislation that will ensure our nation’s security while protecting civil liberties. He explains, “You may have heard dire warnings about our national security from the President – but let me assure you that FISA remains in effect today and allows for rapid court-approved wiretapping to collect foreign intelligence information, while protecting Americans’ civil liberties.”
Hello, this is Congressman John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan. I am Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, and it is my pleasure to talk to you today about Congress' efforts to update our national security surveillance laws.
Since 1978, foreign intelligence wiretapping has been conducted under a law called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, commonly called ‘FISA.’ You may have heard dire warnings about our national security from the President — but let me assure you that FISA remains in effect today and allows for rapid court-approved wiretapping to collect foreign intelligence information, while protecting Americans’ civil liberties.
Last summer, Congress enacted temporary legislation that amended FISA to provide certain additional surveillance powers to the intelligence community. That legislation was far from perfect, and Congress has worked at making the changes to the temporary legislation to improve it and make it permanent.
As a result, the House of Representatives passed the RESTORE Act in November, which made permanent amendments to FISA while providing civil liberties protections that were not in the temporary August legislation. The Senate passed its version of the permanent legislation earlier this month and took a different approach on several key issues. The House bill and the Senate bills are both lengthy, with numerous technical provisions as they address this complex and important area of the law.
Last week, because we knew that we would be unable to harmonize the Senate bill with the House versions on such short notice, I introduced legislation that would have provided for a 21-day extension of the short-term August law, which was otherwise due to expire on Saturday. Amazingly, the President opposed the extension, every House Republican voted against it, and the extension was defeated.
Why would the Republicans do that? Why would they let the temporary August bill lapse?
The President and House Republicans simply can’t have it both ways. They cannot argue simultaneously that the temporary August law was essential to national security, and then turn around and engineer the defeat of an extension of it.
In fact, just to be absolutely clear, the expiration of the temporary August legislation does not endanger our national security. In addition, well-established emergency provisions of the current surveillance laws are more than adequate to address any emergent threats.
This is not just my interpretation of the law. Let me read you a statement from the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Kenneth Wainstein. He was asked last week about the status of any of the directives that were obtained under the temporary August law. He said, and I quote: ‘[T]he directives that are in force remain in force until the end of that year.’ That means the orders can continue through 2009. He went on to say: ‘[W]e’ll be able to continue doing surveillance based on those directives.’
Frankly, it’s that simple. The surveillance authority from the temporary August act remains still in place. Established FISA law remains in effect.
The point is this: Democrats are committed to working on a bipartisan basis to finalize a strong law that will protect America while preserving the civil liberties of all Americans. We reject the proposition that there is a conflict between liberty and security. They can and must co-exist, and we are devoted to achieving this end. We will continue to fight to guarantee a meaningful role for the courts and the Congress in ensuring freedoms and rights for all Americans.
We expect the House and the Senate will produce permanent legislation in the next few weeks. But as we continue to move forward, there should be no question in anyone’s mind that the United State intelligence agencies have the legal ability to take all actions necessary to protect the security of the American people. For anyone to suggest otherwise is irresponsible and totally inaccurate.
This is Congressman John Conyers. Thank you for listening.