Rep. Hank Johnson’s statement on disclosure of the NSA telephone surveillance program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) today issued the following statement following disclosure of the secret National Security Agency telephone surveillance program that has collected the telephone records of tens of millions of American customers of Verizon, one of the nation’s largest phone companies, under a top-secret court order.

“Last year, I opposed reauthorizing the sun-setting provisions of the PATRIOT Act because the House Judiciary Committee failed to adopt amendments, including one I offered, that would have reined in overbroad collection authorities like Section 215.

"Over my objections and without my vote, Congress ultimately approved a deeply flawed bill.  It is disingenuous for any member of Congress to imply that he or she is unaware of the potential for abuse.  We have debated these authorities and their uses extensively.

"As a member of both Judiciary and the House Armed Services Committee, I am acutely sensitive to the need to protect Americans from the perennial threat of terrorist attacks, which confronts our nation, and the need for common sense but sometimes complex legislation to confront these oftentimes sophisticated threats.

But when does national security trump the Constitution and Bill of Rights? This question begs to be answered by a Congress that should soberly and carefully debate these weighty issues publicly and in regular order. We are doing Americans a disservice by allowing external threats to potentially erode our domestic liberties and civil rights. We must have a thorough and public debate on how our government can balance the need for national security while protecting the basic liberties of its citizens. Americans have a right to know the power that they are granting their government.”