MCCONNELL: Senate must not let Section 702 go dark

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U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks Friday on the Senate floor regarding FISA:

“For the past sixteen years, federal law enforcement and intelligence professionals have used Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to identify and minimize foreign threats to U.S. national security.

“The carefully targeted authorities established back in 2008 are an essential tool for staying a step ahead of non-U.S. persons who seek to harm the American people. But unless the Senate acts today, these authorities will end tonight.

“Our friends in the House understood the threat.

“On a bipartisan basis, they spent months working to craft sensible reforms to guard against future abuses, made changes to adapt the program to meet the demands of new technologies, and took tough votes against amendments that may sound good but would actually kill the program.

“The House deserves credit for reforming and reauthorizing this essential authority.

“Now, the Senate’s choice is clear: We can pass the House’s reform bill. Or – given the late hour and political reality – we can essentially doom the program to go dark.

“Pass the House reform bill, or give free reign to foreign intelligence operatives and terrorists to target America.

“Now over the past few days, a number of our colleagues have drawn some puzzling conclusions about the House-passed bill that would allow us to prevent Section 702 from lapsing.

“We’ve heard that overdue reforms to bring this portion of statute up-to-date with modern communications technology amount to a massive new dragnet to surveil innocent U.S. citizens.

“We’ve heard that if the House-passed reauthorization became law, a coffee shop’s public internet could become a vector for bulk collection of Americans’ sensitive personal data.

“Of course, the facts of the case are crystal clear. As I pointed out earlier this week, the federal courts tasked with overseeing the appropriate use of Section 702 authorities have already ruled that the fearmongering about new threats to U.S. citizens’ privacy was completely unfounded.

“Yesterday, we even heard the Democratic Whip suggest that a lapse in authorities wouldn’t really mean ‘going dark’ even though they expire at midnight.

“This is absurd. Big tech conglomerates do not provide these critical communications to the U.S. government because they want to; they do so because the law compels them to.

“When that compulsion disappears, who are they going to listen to – their customers, or the FBI asking nicely?

“Once Section 702 expires, companies will stop complying.

“It will be up to the government to play a slow and painstaking game of whack-a-mole in court against an army of the most sophisticated lawyers in the country. And in the meantime, actionable intelligence will pass us right by.

“This is not a hypothetical – it’s happened before.

“Following a similar lapse in authority during the Bush Administration, Attorney General Mukasey observed that providers, quote, ‘delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillances of terrorist and other foreign intelligence targets under existing directives.’

“He went on that this, ‘led directly to a degraded intelligence capability.’

“China is on the march. Iran and its proxies are pushing the Middle East to the brink of war. Russian spies are reportedly plotting sabotage against U.S. military targets. Suspected terrorists are exploiting the crisis at our southern border.

“This is not the time to voluntarily degrade our ability to protect the American people. This is not the time for facile arguments about issues this legislation addresses head-on.

“Today, power rests with the Senate. This is the end of the line. There is no one coming to relieve us of our duty.

“Just like the real-world consequences America will face if the House fails to pass a national security supplemental, there will be serious consequences if the Senate fails to do its job today.

“The stakes of such an outcome are grave. The authorities in question today have, quite literally, been the only defense against would-be national security disasters.

“The year after Section 702 was enacted, it was used to foil an active plot to bomb the subway in New York City. As our colleague, Senator Cornyn, explained yesterday, Section 702 was behind 70% of the intelligence community’s surveillance of the cartels’ synthetic narcotics operations last year.

“The threats to America’s security are flashing red. Our adversaries are as intent as ever on sowing chaos and violence.

“And a vote to send this critical legislation back to the House today is a vote to make their job easier.

“The Senate must not let Section 702 go dark.”


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