Editor’s Note: Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, is the senior senator from Texas and the Senate majority whip. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
For Americans, September 11, 2001 will forever be etched into our memories. The world watched as an always resolute nation fell victim to a horrific act of terror on its own soil. Our enemies celebrated in a seemingly impervious nation being brought to its knees, if only for a moment.
More than 15 years later, America remains a beacon of hope in an increasingly dangerous world – due, in large part, to those who combat terror, often away from the public eye and with little recognition. Congress is tasked with providing important tools the intelligence community needs to fight our enemies, which includes Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This law allows us to conduct surveillance on foreign agents and terrorists who are outside the United States so we can efficiently and effectively acquire critical information and stop the next attack before it happens.
The House of Representatives already acted earlier this month to reauthorize the law, and it’s critical the Senate follow suit before the program expires Friday. This program is vital to our national security; without this tool, we are asking our intelligence community to do its job with one hand tied behind its back. However, some have spread misinformation about what this law does or does not do.
Critics have claimed this law will trample on Fourth Amendment protections for Americans here at home. Because the law requires that targets of Section 702 must be foreign citizens outside the US, those targets are not covered by the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. Courts have found the law to be constitutional.
Furthermore, there are multiple safeguards built into the statute that prohibit the US government from intentionally targeting Americans. And there are also “minimization” procedures in place to protect the privacy of US citizens. Congressional committees such as the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee – both of which I serve on – conduct rigorous oversight of the program, as does the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Whether it’s combating terrorism, detecting and countering cyber-attacks, or protecting troops overseas from foreign threats, this legislation reauthorizes one of the crown jewels of foreign intelligence. And far from ignoring Americans’ privacy concerns, the protections enshrined in the law embrace and defend them.
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The stakes are high and the clock is ticking. The Senate will have a chance to act this week so the US government can continue to collect critical national security information to protect the American people. Handcuffing our intelligence community by letting the program lapse even one day could stop us from utilizing vital information to prevent terrorist attacks.