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Bill calls for end to NSA bulk telephone 'metadata' collection [Commentary]

As congressman of the 2nd District of Maryland, I am proud to represent the men and women of the National Security Agency. They serve and sacrifice for our country every day, often in dangerous situations, and I applaud them for their work. As the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, I am also proud to oversee the intelligence community on behalf of the American people as a whole, ensuring that our intelligence organizations get the tools necessary to keep us, and our allies safe, while ensuring the highest levels of civil liberty and privacy protection.

Over the past year, the country has been involved in an impassioned debate over some of our country's national security programs. I have listened carefully and have worked closely with the Republican chairman of our committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, to fashion a legislative proposal that would greatly enhance privacy and civil liberties while ensuring our government has the tools necessary to spot and thwart terrorist plots at their earliest stages.

We will therefore introduce a bill Tuesday to end the government's bulk collection of telephone metadata under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

In its place, our bill authorizes the government to legally direct the companies who have communication metadata to search their databases and produce only the relevant results. This narrow and tailored directive must be supported by specific, detailed facts indicating why the search term is reasonably associated with terrorism or other foreign intelligence. Importantly, each order is reviewed by a court. In fact, our proposal requires the government to seek court approval before and after obtaining metadata from phone companies.

And we do not stop there. Our bi-partisan legislation prohibits the government from using this new targeted metadata procedure to obtain any communications content or any personally identifiable information, and it does not mandate that companies keep their records for any longer than they normally do. Just as under the current program, the government would not be able to use this new authority to listen to your phone calls.

To be clear, under this proposal, the government would no longer be able to collect any bulk call records.

Ending bulk collection isn't the only way our bill aims to regain the American people's confidence in our national security programs. The bill requires the government to either release all significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) decisions or issue an unclassified summary of the opinion's key points. FISC judges would gain the statutory power to appoint a lawyer from a pre-cleared pool of advocates to argue against the government's position, guaranteeing that the judges can always hear arguments from both sides of a case. And the bill would require the government to regularly review its electronic surveillance policies to make sure they continue to safeguard privacy and civil liberties as technology changes.

When we began work on this proposal, we were guided by the conviction that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive goals. While other proposals in Congress may not maintain the capability our intelligence community needs to keep our country safe, our proposal strikes the right balance of maintaining an important intelligence tool, while providing unprecedented levels of oversight and scrutiny.

Chairman Rogers and I have always maintained a bipartisan approach to our work together on the Intelligence Committee, and this proposal is just another product of that bipartisan approach. The stakes are high when we're dealing with issues of national security, and this proposal recognizes that and works to maintain the important capability needed to keep protect our country, while protecting privacy and civil liberties.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat and the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has represented Maryland's 2nd District since 2003. He can be reached at http://www.dutch.house.gov.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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