WHITE HOUSE: In this week's address, the President addressed critical pieces of national security business that remained unfinished when the Senate left town. This Sunday at midnight, key tools used to protect against terrorist threats are set to expire. The USA Freedom Act strikes a balance between security and privacy, reauthorizing important measures that give our national security professionals the authorities they use to keep us safe, while also implementing reforms that enhance the privacy and civil liberties of our citizens. But currently, a small group of senators is standing in its way. The President asked Americans to speak with one voice to the Senate to put politics aside, put the safety of the American people first, and pass the USA Freedom Act now.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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 have 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 tomorrow at midnight, these tools go away as well.
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 by midnight tomorrow, these reforms will be in jeopardy, too.
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. 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 Qaeda 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. And 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.