The President's Weekly Address
Hi, everybody. As President and Commander in Chief, my greatest responsibility is the safety of the American people. And in our fight against terrorists, we need to use every effective tool at our disposal, both to defend our security and to protect the freedoms and civil liberties enshrined in our Constitution.
But tomorrow—Sunday at midnight—some important tools we use against terrorists will expire. That's because Congress has not renewed them and because legislation that would, the USA FREEDOM Act, is stuck in the Senate. I want to be very clear about what this means.
Today, when investigating terrorist networks, our national security professionals can seek a court order to obtain certain business records. Our law enforcement professionals can seek a roving wiretap to keep up with terrorists when they switch cell phones. We can seek a wiretap on so-called lone wolves, suspected terrorists who may not be directly tied to a terrorist group. These tools are not controversial. Since 9/11, they've been renewed numerous times. FBI Director James Comey says they are "essential" and that losing them would "severely" impact terrorism investigations. But if Congress doesn't act by midnight tomorrow, these tools go away.
The USA FREEDOM Act also accomplishes something I called for a year and a half ago: It ends the bulk metadata program—the bulk collection of phone records—as it currently exists and puts in place new reforms. The Government will no longer hold these records, telephone providers will. The Act also includes other changes to our surveillance laws, including more transparency, to help build confidence among the American people that your privacy and civil liberties are being protected. But if Congress doesn't act tomorrow, at midnight, these reforms will be in jeopardy as well.
It doesn't have to be this way. The USA FREEDOM Act reflects ideas from privacy advocates, our private sector partners, and our national security experts. It already passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support: Republicans and Democrats. That doesn't happen very often. A majority of the Senate—Republicans and Democrats—have voted to move it forward.
So what's the problem? A small group of Senators is standing in the way. And, unfortunately, some folks are trying to use this debate to score political points. But this shouldn't and can't be about politics. This is a matter of national security. Terrorists like Al Qaida and ISIL aren't suddenly going to stop plotting against us at midnight tomorrow. And we shouldn't surrender the tools that help keep us safe. It would be irresponsible. It would be reckless. We shouldn't allow it to happen.
So today I'm calling on Americans to join me in speaking with one voice to the Senate: Put the politics aside. Put our national security first. Pass the USA FREEDOM Act now. And let's protect the security and civil liberties of every American. Thanks very much.
NOTE: The address was recorded at approximately 11:55 a.m. on May 29 in the Roosevelt Room at the White House for broadcast on May 30. In the address, the President referred to H.R. 2048; and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist organization. The transcript was made available by the Office of the Press Secretary on May 29, but was embargoed for release until 6 a.m. on May 30.
Barack Obama, The President's Weekly Address Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/310132