(202) 225 - 3130
WASHINGTON, DC - House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor tonight on legislation that would amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The following are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Mr. Speaker, our highest duty as members of this body is to defend our nation, protect our people and uphold the Constitution of the United States. That is, we have a duty to keep this nation safe from those who seek to harm us - and, yes, a duty to ensure that our government abides by the principles upon which it was founded.
"In 1978, this Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in an effort to balance these critical interests. It is with these principles in mind that we bring this bill to the floor to immediately fill the intelligence gap described to Congress by the Director of National Intelligence.
"Among other things, this legislation clarifies that no court order is required to intercept and conduct surveillance on foreign-to-foreign communications that pass through the United States. It reiterates that individual warrants - based on probable cause - are required when surveillance is directed at people within the United States.
"It provides for initial 15-day emergency authority so that international surveillance may begin immediately. And, it allows for up to two 15-day extensions while the court rules.
"It also compels the cooperation of communications carriers during emergency periods.
"And, it requires the Inspector General at the Department of Justice to conduct an audit every 60 days of communications involving Americans that are intercepted under 'basket warrants' - requiring that the audit be provided to the FISA court and the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
"Finally, the legislation provides that these provisions sunset in 120 days - because it is imperative that we consider issues of this magnitude in a thoughtful manner.
"Now, some will say this bill doesn't go far enough. Many of them support the Administration's proposal, which would permanently authorize warrantless surveillance and searches of Americans' phone calls, emails, homes, offices and personal records for at least three months and for however long an appeal to the court of review and the Supreme Court takes - as long as the search is 'concerning a person abroad.'
"In fact, the Administration's proposal practically eliminates the role of the FISA court.
"Mr. Speaker, we have spent hours with the DNI and worked hard to give him the tools he has requested. For example, the DNI asked that we expand the language in the bill from 'relating to terrorism' to the much broader 'relating to all foreign intelligence' - and the leadership agreed.
"The DNI asked that we eliminate the requirement that the FISA court adjudicate how recurring communications into the United States from foreign targets would be handled - and we agreed to this change.
"In closing, let me tell the members that yesterday I asked the DNI about the bill before us, and whether he would be better off operating under its provisions. He responded yes, this legislation would, in his words, 'significantly enhance America's security.'
"If the Administration truly seeks a temporary fix to the FISA statute, this legislation provides one. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle: Vote for this important legislation, which strengthens our national security and comports with the principles of our constitution."