Sensenbrenner Argues For Increased Oversight, Transparency To Protect Privacy As Well As Legitimate Anti-Terror Tools
December 11, 2013 by Sam Rolley
Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is becoming something of a character in a modern parable as Congress continues to quarrel over the legality of aspects ofÂ the Nationâ€™s burgeoning surveillance state. The lesson Sensenbrennerâ€™s role reveals: Those responsible for the creation of a monster are also responsible for keeping the beast under control.
Sensenbrenner was one of the original authors of the Patriot Act. That law, created amid panic following the 9/11 terror attacks, opened the door for many of the surveillance abuses that the government carries out today. Specifically, the law contains some of the key legal justifications that supporters of the National Security Agencyâ€™s embattled surveillance techniques reference in efforts to stifle questions about the Constitutionality of the agencyâ€™s actions.
Sensenbrenner recently told The Hill that much of the NSAâ€™s sweeping data collection was green-lighted following the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2006. This was about the same time the lawmaker was stepping down from his position as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Section 215 of the original Patriot Act, Sensenbrenner explained, allows only information â€śrelevantâ€ť to terrorism. But lawmakers, either unconcerned with privacy or over-concerned with locating terror in every nook and cranny of society, allowed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to expand NSAâ€™s collection authority to all digital communication.
â€śI donâ€™t think the oversight was vigorously done by the Judiciary Committee,â€ť Sensenbrenner told the newspaper. â€śWhen I was running the Judiciary Committee, it was being vigorously done.â€ť
The lawmaker is currently backing the USA Freedom Act, which would place major limitations on government surveillance power, including a provision to put an end to the NSA calls program.
Meanwhile, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has presented opposing legislation in the form of a bill that would codify the most overreaching NSA activities while providing for modest transparency requirements.
Sensenbrenner told The Hill that the Senatorâ€™s bill is a joke, amounting essentially to: â€śIf you like your NSA, you can keep it.â€ť
Clapper also noted that, if Congress doesnâ€™t take steps to quell the NSAâ€™s power now, time will provide a victory for opponents of government surveillance as intelligence agencyâ€™s may lose even legitimate terror-fighting tools entirely following votes to reauthorize the Patriot Act in 2015 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2017. Public displeasure would likely condemn any politician voting in favor.