Transcript: Sen. Al Franken’s remarks on the Surveillance Transparency Act – Nov. 13, 2013

Partial transcript of Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minnesota) remarks on the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law hearing was held on Nov. 13, 2013:

…This bill is urgently necessary. Americans understand that we need to give due weight to privacy on the one hand and national security on the other.

But Americans are also naturally suspicious of executive power, and when the government does things secretly, Americans tend to think that power is being abused. This is exactly the place where congressional oversight is useful and necessary.

For months now, there has been a steady stream of news stories about the NSA’s surveillance programs and yet right now by law, Americans cannot get really the most basic information about what’s going on with these programs.

Consider this, it’s been months since the PRISM program and the telephone call records program were revealed to the public and yet to this day, Americans don’t know the actual number of people whose information has been collected under those programs. They don’t know how many of those people are American, and they have no way of knowing how many of these Americans have had their information actually seen by government officials as opposed to just being held in a database.

The administration has taken good steps in good faith to address this problem, but I’m afraid that these steps are too little and that they are not permanent. And so Americans still have no way of knowing whether the government is striking the right balance between privacy and security or whether their privacy is being violated.

I believe there needs to be more transparency.

I’ve written a bipartisan bill to address this. It will require that the NSA disclose to the public how many people are having their data collected under each foreign intelligence authority. It would make the NSA estimate how many of those people are American citizens or green card holders and how many of those Americans have had their information actually looked at by government agents.

My bill would also lift the gag orders on Internet and phone companies so that those companies can tell Americans general information about the numbers of orders they’re getting under each key authority and the number of users whose information has been produced in response to those orders.

Right now, as a result of those gags many people think that American Internet companies are giving up far more information to the government than they likely are. The Information, Technology, and Innovation Foundation estimates that American cloud computing companies could lose $22 billion to $35 billion in the next three years because of concerns about their involvement with surveillance programs. The analytics firm Forrester puts potential losses much higher at around $180 billion.

A few companies have litigated and secured permission to secure limited statistics about the requests that they get. But again, this is too little and it’s not permanent.

My bill would permanently ensure that the American people have the information they need to reach an informed opinion about government surveillance and that would protect American companies losing business from misconceptions about its role in these programs.

I’m pleased to say this bill is the leading transparency bill in proposal in the Senate, supported by a strong coalition of tech companies, civil liberties groups. The version as introduced gained the support of 12 Senators, including the Chairman of the full Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. I anticipate that we’ll soon be adding our original supporters onto the new bipartisan bill, hopefully with some additional supporters as well.

The purpose of this hearing is to make the case for this bill and to improve it by getting the feedback of top experts in the administration, privacy groups, and in the private sector.

I specifically asked the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice to provide candid comments on this bill, especially any concerns that they have.

I’ve already added provisions in the bill to protect national security but I want to know any further concerns that they have. I suspect that I’ll agree with them in some cases and disagree with them in others. In those cases, I want to have an open exchange about the disagreements.

That said, I want to be clear at the outset that I have the utmost respect for the men and women of our intelligence community. I think they are patriots, and I think they have and do save lives…

…You made a comment that there are checks on what you do but that doesn’t mean what you do is always appropriate and that’s what we’re trying to get to here. You have made some disclosures that I think have been in good faith but they aren’t permanent, they aren’t part of the law. So that’s what we’re discussing here.

…There is no question that the American people need more information about these programs. There’s no question about that. For a democracy to work, its citizens need to have at least a basic amount of information about the surveillance their own government conducts over their affairs. I think that my bill will give the American people that transparency. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with the administration and my colleagues to make sure that we’re getting it right.

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15 Comments on “Transcript: Sen. Al Franken’s remarks on the Surveillance Transparency Act – Nov. 13, 2013

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