Sensenbrenner to introduce USA FREEDOM Act today

More than two weeks after outlining principles behind the USA FREEDOM Act in a speech at the Cato Institute, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) will reportedly introduce the anti-domestic surveillance measure today with strong bipartisan support, according to Breitbart, a conservative news outlet.

Sensenbrenner, who sponsored the PATRIOT Act in 2001, has emerged as one of the primary critics of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs and contends that the Justice Department and intelligence is relying on a broad interpretation of the anti-terrorism law, far beyond congressional intent, to collect Americans’ phone and Internet metadata.

The FREEDOM Act would limit the NSA’s ability to collect data “adopting a uniform standard for intelligence gathering under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act,” according to Sensenbrenner.

What’s more, the measure would reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) by creating a civil liberties advocate, create new reporting requirements and oversight from Congress for the court, and allow the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board subpoena authority. The legislation will also reform National Security Letters (NSL) to ensure that the current administration or its predecessors don’t use another agency to collect bulk data.

Breitbart reported that the measure will be introduced with “50+ co-sponsors,” including “multiple members” who voted against an amendment authored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). That amendment, offered to the defense appropriations bill in July, would have limited the extent to which NSA could conduct domestic surveillance.

Though that measure was defeated, though narrowly, some members have said that they would have voted for the amendment if they had known the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programs at the time. Some have accused House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) of withholding information about the programs in advance of the vote on the Amash amendment.

“The phone records of innocent Americans do not relate to terrorism, whatsoever; and they are not reasonably likely to lead to information that relates to terrorism,” said Sensenbrenner earlier this month. “Put simply, the phone calls we make to our friends, our families, and business associates are private and have nothing to do with terrorism or the government’s efforts to stop it.”

“As the administration explains it, all of our phone records are relevant because the connections between individual data points are of potential value. But these private collections are only of value if they in some way relate to terrorism. To the extent that they don’t, the government has no right to collect them,” he added.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will introduce the legislation in the upper chamber. It’s unclear how many co-sponsors he will have, though several members from both sides of the aisle have criticized the NSA surveillance programs, or whether leadership will get behind reform efforts.

The FREEDOM Act, one of several anti-domestic surveillance measures introduced this year, could set the stage for another showdown on domestic surveillance, if and when its brought to the floor for a vote.

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