The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In practice, it requires any search warrant or government surveillance to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. Unfortunately, recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance activities raise serious questions about whether these constitutional protection are being obeyed.
I am deeply disturbed by disclosures over the past several months that the NSA may be conducting surveillance on American citizens without proper legal authority. Media reports suggest the NSA inappropriately collects records of phone calls made and emails sent by American citizens. Some have claimed the agency has even accessed the content of these communications. Others indicate that the agency has the capacity to monitor 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic.
Frankly, most Americans don’t know what to believe.
That is why I recently supported an amendment to prevent the NSA from abusing its counterterrorism powers. The amendment, added to the bill that funds the Department of Defense, will prohibit the NSA from targeting and analyzing the phone calls, emails, and other electronic communications of American citizens. This amendment was adopted instead of a more sweeping one that would have imposed a blanket restriction on the collection and analysis of all bulk data, including data that is known to have prohibited more than 50 terrorist attacks. I could not justify such a sweeping prohibition without further congressional examination of its impact.
The President has acknowledged that the NSA’s powers are “scary to some people.” Yet, he assures us that no rights are being violated. After scandals at the IRS, the Department of Justice and elsewhere, the American People are understandably skeptical.
Clearly, we have more work to do. Congress should draw a bright line between acceptable counterterrorism activities and unacceptable violations of our fundamental rights. We should investigate all allegations against the NSA, re-examine its authorities, and determine the best path forward.
Without question, federal security agencies must comply with the law and operate within their legal authorities. American citizens must not have their privacy violated without probable cause. Our phone calls, emails, and Internet activities should not be monitored and analyzed by the government unless an independent court determines that there is a legitimate reason to do so.
We live in dangerous times. But, we can and must protect the privacy and civil liberties of American citizens while conducting appropriate surveillance activities to stop terrorist attacks. That way the American People will have both the liberty and safety we deserve.
Luke Messer is the Congressman for Indiana’s 6th Congressional District, a 19 county region of east-central and southeastern Indiana comprised of manufacturing and agricultural communities.