Durbin Delivers Opening Statement During Judiciary Committee Hearing On Oversight Of Section 702 Of The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

As sunset of Section 702 approaches, today’s hearing features testimony from five senior administration officials

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Oversight of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Related Surveillance Authorities.”  Today’s hearing will examine the privacy and civil liberties impact of Section 702 and related surveillance authorities as Section 702’s sunset approaches.

“Today, the Judiciary Committee will focus on two of our most critical responsibilities to the American people: protecting our national security and our Constitution.”

“At the end of this year, an important—and controversial—surveillance authority known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, is set to expire.  It is worth taking a moment to recall the history of this program.” 

“After 9/11/2001, the Bush Administration launched a warrantless surveillance program without authorization from the courts or Congress.  Years later, the Committee heard dramatic testimony about White House officials pressuring Attorney General John Ashcroft from his hospital bed to reauthorize this surveillance program.  He refused.”

“After this surveillance program came to light, Congress retroactively authorized it in theFISA Amendments Act of 2008 as a temporary, emergency tool to combat terrorism.  That is what became Section 702.”

“Today, nearly two decades later, Section 702 is touted as critical for a range of purposes, including countering China, tracking Russian atrocities in Ukraine, and even monitoring the distribution of fentanyl into the United States.”

“There is no doubt that Section 702 is a valuable tool for collecting foreign intelligence.  But—as I have said for years—Section 702 also raises serious constitutional concerns.”

“Only foreigners abroad may be targeted under Section 702.  Let me repeat that: Only foreigners abroad may be targeted under Section 702.  But, in the course of gathering intelligence on foreigners, the government also collects the private communications of Americans who communicate with these individuals abroad.”

“How many American communications are collected under Section 702?  The government cannot—and will not—say.  What we know is that hundreds of thousands of foreigners are targeted each year. And likely billions of communications are collected and stored on government databases.  The government can then search these databases for Americans’ emails, phone calls, and text messages—all without a warrant.” 

“It was my view when this program was first authorized by Congress in 2008—and it is my view now—that Section 702 does not sufficiently protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.  That’s why I joined with Senator Lee, in a bipartisan 2012 effort, to offer an amendment to require a warrant for any backdoor search of an American’s communications.”

“Since Senator Lee and I offered our amendment in 2012, the problems with Section 702 have continued.  The court charged with overseeing this program has found ‘persistent and widespread’ violations of the rules governing Section 702.”

“At the outset of today’s hearing, let me say this: I will only support the reauthorization of Section 702 if there are significant—significant—reforms.  And that means, first and foremost, addressing the warrantless surveillance of Americans in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  Moreover, the reforms must also include safeguards to prevent future abuses and ensure effective oversight by Congress and the courts.” 

“We can protect America’s national security and the constitutional rights of the American people at the same time.”

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here. 

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.