Hearing with the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies - Grassley Opening Statement PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Wednesday, 15 January 2014 08:58

Prepared Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary

“The Report of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.  I join you in welcoming the members of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.

This is the latest in a series of hearings on the government’s surveillance authorities that the Committee has held.  The NSA continues to be of great concern to my constituents and many across our country.

The most important responsibility of government is to protect our national security, while at the same time preserving our civil liberties.  This is a responsibility that’s getting harder to meet.  Rapid changes in technology are making our enemies more lethal, our world more interconnected, and our privacy more subject to possible intrusion.

Under these circumstances, it’s useful to hear a variety of perspectives, including from those outside government.  I thank the members of the Review Group for their service.

Some of the conclusions in the Review Group’s report may help clarify the issues before us as we consider possible reforms.

First, according to the report, “although recent disclosures and commentary have created the impression in some quarters that NSA surveillance is indiscriminate and pervasive across the globe, that is not the case.”  Moreover, the report concludes, “we have not uncovered any official efforts to suppress dissent or any intent to intrude into people’s private lives without legal justification.”

None of this means that the potential for abuse of these authorities shouldn’t concern us.  It should.  Or that the NSA hasn’t made serious mistakes.  Or that the law in this area couldn’t be improved.  Indeed, there’s a place for additional transparency, safeguards and oversight in this area. But these conclusions are helpful in clarifying the issues before us.

Second, the report recommends that “the national security of the United States depends on the continued capacity of NSA and other agencies to collect essential information.  In considering proposals for reform, now and for the future, policymakers should avoid the risk of overreaction and take care in making changes that could undermine the   capabilities of the Intelligence Community.”  This seems like good advice.

One recommendation that may reflect this advice is the Review Group’s proposal to preserve the government’s controversial ability to query telephone metadata, but with some changes.

One of those recommended changes is that private entities hold the metadata.  This is an interesting idea perhaps worth investigating.  But I’m concerned that it may create as many privacy problems as it solves.  Indeed, private companies seem to be allowing their customers’ information to be hacked on what seems like a daily basis.

Just as importantly, I’m concerned that in other instances the Review Group may not have followed its own advice.  Some of its other recommendations may seriously threaten our national security, especially if adopted collectively.

For example, some of the recommendations in the report appear to make it more difficult to investigate a terrorist than a common criminal.

Some appear to extend the rights of Americans to foreigners without a good reason.

And some appear to rebuild the wall between our law enforcement and national security communities that existed before September 11, 2001.  Of course, that wall helped contribute to our inability to detect and thwart the attack on that day.  Thousands died as a result.

I don’t mean to criticize the effort or intentions of the Review Group.  But I’m concerned that the group was given such a relatively short time to do their work.  As a result, for example, I understand the group spent only one day at the NSA.

I’m also concerned that the group lacked some important perspectives.  For example, none of its members has any experience supervising terrorism investigations at the Department of Justice or the FBI.

And I’m concerned that the group produced a large number of recommendations, but didn’t develop many of them fully.

As the Review Group wrote, its recommendations “will require careful assessment by a wide range of relevant officials, with close reference to the likely consequences.”  I look forward to beginning that process today, and again welcome our witnesses.

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