Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the man who helped usher in the Patriot Act era as a co-author of the post-Sept. 11 bill, has turned against the broad surveillance powers, loophole abuses and 4th Amendment-shredding licentiousness the law introduced under President George W. Bush and the expansion of Federal police powers under Barack Obama.
Sensenbrenner is working on a new bill — the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-Collection and Online Monitoring Act — that purports to outlaw the Patriot Act’s unConstitutional unleashing of police powers against citizens who aren’t specific targets of terror investigations.
The new bill, also called the U.S.A. Freedom Act, arose from Sensenbrenner’s confessed dismay over how far afield the Patriot Act led the Nation’s law enforcement effort from the Act’s intent.
In a synopsis of the U.S.A. Freedom Act published by The Guardian, which previewed a draft of the bill, Sensenbrenner has targeted four key areas of the Patriot Act for abolition or reform:
[The U.S.A. Freedom Act] seeks to limit the collection of phone records to known terrorist suspects; to end “secret laws” by making courts disclose surveillance policies; to create a special court advocate to represent privacy interests; and to allow companies to disclose how many requests for users’ information they receive from the USA. The bill also tightens up language governing overseas surveillance to remove a loophole which it has been abused to target internet and email activities of Americans.
Despite the narrow defeat of a House measure over the summer that sought to defund the National Security Agency (NSA), Sensenbrenner told the newspaper he believes public opinion, coupled with the manifest NSA abuses brought to light by Edward Snowden, have put Congress on the spot to reverse the government’s usurpation of citizens’ Constitutional powers.
“Opinions have hardened with the revelations over the summer, particularly the inspector general’s report that there were thousands of violations of regulations, and the disclosure that NSA employees were spying on their spouses or significant others, which was very chilling,” he said.
Sensenbrenner has bipartisan support from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. But he also expects strong opposition from Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is floating a bill that tweaks the Patriot Act instead of banning the warrantless bulk collection of electronic data from American citizens. Sensenbrenner even went so far as to condemn Feinstein’s leadership, as well as that of disgraced (but not disciplined) National Intelligence director James Clapper, who lied to Congress about how far the NSA dragnet had cast its net.
“I do not want to see Congress pass a fig leaf because that would allow the NSA to say ‘Well, we’ve cleaned up our act’ until the next scandal breaks. [Party leaders] are going to have to review what kind of people they put on the intelligence committee. Oversight is as good as the desire of the chairman to do it,” said Sensenbrenner. “… If they use a law like Senator Feinstein is proposing, it will just allow them to do business as usual with a little bit of a change in the optics.”
As for Clapper?
“Oversight only works when the agency that oversight is directed at tells the truth, and having Mr. Clapper say he gave the least untruthful answer should, in my opinion, have resulted in a firing and a prosecution.”
Read The Guardian’s assessment of the U.S.A. Freedom Act here. Anything can happen, and talk among Congressmen has never been cheaper. But if this bill survives intact to become law, it at least promises to make the NSA, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and a host of other Federal agencies subject to prosecution if they continue to perpetrate the unConstitutional surveillance methods Snowden laid bare earlier this year.