NSA Data Collection, Patriot Act Back In The Spotlight
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. How much should the government be able to know about us in order to keep us safe? That's the central question in the debate over the NSA's program to collect Americans' phone records. This past week, a federal appeals court ruled that the bulk collection is illegal. The program, which was passed as part of the 2001 Patriot Act, is set to expire at the end of this month. In a moment, we're going to hear from the former deputy director of the CIA, who says bulk data collection is an invaluable intelligence tool. But first, we're joined on the line by the head of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. Thanks so much for being with us, Congressman.
CONGRESSMAN ROBERT GOODLATTE: Thank you, Rachel.
MARTIN: Your committee approved a bill this past week to end the NSA meta-data collection program. Not all of your Republican colleagues are on board with this. And as I mentioned, intelligence officials have seen it as a valuable tool. How do you see this?
GOODLATTE: Well, the members of the committee who were not on board, two voted against the bill, passed the committee 25-2, but those two wanted to go further and bring in a separate federal statute for further reform of that as well, which we've committed to looking at in the future. But the committee has, and I think the full House, has very broad support for ending the government's bulk data collection. And not just for telephone records, but for any kind of records 'cause this could be extended to financial records or medical records or whatever kind of records you can imagine. And not just under Section 215, which is the provision that expires at the end of this month, but under several other statutes as well. And we substitute that for a very good method for intelligence to be able to go to the holders of the records and, with a court order, get the information they need about their suspected foreign terrorist. So we are very much in favor of supporting national security. We think this bill strengthens our national security in a number of respects. But it also strengthens the protection of American civil liberty.
MARTIN: So your bill would require the NSA to get a search warrant, essentially, to go through phone records. Does that mean the phone companies would be expected to hold all that data?
GOODLATTE: They would hold the data during their normal course of business. Phone companies hold them for a period of time for their own billing records and other purposes like that. And during that time, the government would be able to get the information. And they could even negotiate with the phone companies if they needed certain information held for a longer period of time. But this, I think, is a big improvement in terms of protecting Americans' security. And the vast majority of the American people agree with this. They don't want the government collecting trillions of pieces of data about every aspect of their lives so that at some point in time they can go back and test that and see if they get this information or that information. That's subject to a great deal of abuse, and it is something that could just simply grow out of hand. So instead...
MARTIN: But as you know, the NSA bulk collection program was approved by two different presidents of different parties - George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Do you think they both made a mistake?
GOODLATTE: Oh, I definitely do. And it was definitely not the intent of the Congress when Section 215 of the Patriot Act was passed because the chairman of the committee at that time, Jim Sensenbrenner, is the author of the bill that we're introducing now. And this is a bipartisan piece of legislation that I think the vast majority of members of the committee agree was not the intent when 215 was passed originally. And we preserve what the original intent was and protect the government's ability to track foreign terrorist suspects, but protect Americans' civil liberty is at the same time.
MARTIN: Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Thanks so much for talking with us, Congressman.
GOODLATTE: Thank you, Rachel.
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