James Sensenbrenner

House NSA reformer: “There’s more than enough votes to pass the FREEDOM Act”

A leading critic of the NSA bulk data collection program says the votes exist in the House of Representatives to pass the USA FREEDOM Act, a sweeping measure that would end bulk data collection and protect Americans’ privacy rights.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) told The Hill last week that he would offer an amendment to address the NSA bulk meta collection programs if the White House and House Intelligence Committee proposal fall short. Now that he’s had time to review them, the Michigan Republican believes the dueling measures don’t stop bulk data collection at all.

“The proposals from the White House and the Intelligence Committee don’t really make much of a difference. They don’t actually stop bulk collection,” Amash said in an interview on Wednesday. “They transfer where the data is held, but the government can still access it in basically the same way.”

Amash supports the USA FREEDOM Act, introduced in October by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). This measure would not only end the bulk data collection program, it would also close loopholes the NSA could use to access Americans’ personal records.

The USA FREEDOM Act has broad, bipartisan support — a rarity in Washington these days — but it’s currently stalled in the House Judiciary Committee, though Amash notes that it has “a lot of support” from its members.

PATRIOT Act author introduces measure to end NSA bulk data collection

James Sensenbrenner

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author and primary sponsor of the USA PATRIOT Act, announced on Wednesday that he would introduce legislation, the USA FREEDOM Act, to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone and Internet metadata.

“My view of the PATRIOT Act hasn’t changed,” said Sensenbrenner at a Cato Institute conference on NSA surveillance.

“What has changed is what two administrations, Bush 43 and the Obama Administration, have done after I left office as chairman of the [House] Judiciary Committee and did not have my tart oversight pen to send oversight letters that usually were cosigned by Congressman [John] Conyers, then-the ranking member, to the Justice Department, and specifically acting like a crabby, old professors when they were non-responsive in their answers,” he explained.

Sensenbrenner has become a fierce critic of the NSA’s surveillance techniques, referring to them as “excessive and un-American” in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The NSA has justified the bulk data collection through a controversial provision of the PATRIOT Act. He contends that the NSA is defying congressional intent as the provision, Section 215, allows intelligence agencies to seize records related to an actual investigation into terrorist activity.

FreedomWorks refuses to settle for anything less than an end to unconstitutional NSA spying

Once considered by privacy advocates to be the best measure in Congress to end the NSA’s unconstitutional bulk data collection program, the USA Freedom Act has been watered down in behind-the-scenes negotiations to the point that FreedomWorks, an influential conservative group known mostly for its free market activism, can no longer support it.

“[W]e can no longer in good conscience support the bill in its current form. The USA Freedom Act has been amended in ways that have severely watered down the bill. These changes to the bill —adopted in last minute negotiations — would likely still allow the bulk collection of metadata on Americans to continue,” said FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe in a statement. ”In other words, the new bill is mild reform that would barely do anything.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author and primary sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, submitted a manager’s amendment in the House Rules Committee that alters language placing tighter limitations on surveillance.

Privacy groups have been universally critical of changes, warning that the new language could be interpreted broadly enough to allow the National Security Agency to continue spying on law-abiding Americans. Tech companies, including Google and Facebook, have also withdrawn support for the measure.

House committee clears measure prohibiting unconstitutional NSA spying


In a unanimous vote on Wednesday afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee passed the USA FREEDOM Act, a bipartisan measure that would prohibit the National Security Agency’s collection of innocent Americans’ phone records.

“Today’s strong, bipartisan vote by the House Judiciary Committee takes us one step closer to ending bulk collection once and for all and safeguards Americans’ civil liberties as our intelligence community keeps us safe from foreign enemies who wish us harm,” Chairman Bob Goodlatte said in a statement.

The USA FREEDOM Act prohibits the bulk data collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and closes pen-and-trap and National Security Letter loopholes through which the NSA could obtain metadata.

The measure requires the federal government to seek FISA court approval for records on a case-by-case basis and increases congressional oversight of the programs. It also establishes a panel to consider privacy concerns and allows tech firms to disclose court request for consumers’ information.

“As the Committee of primary jurisdiction,” said Goodlatte, “we urge the House and Senate to move expeditiously on this legislation so that we can begin to restore confidence in the way intelligence is gathered and protect the privacy rights of all Americans.”

Privacy advocates are concerned that the USA FREEDOM Act was watered down too much in the deal stuck to bring it up for a vote in committee. The sense, however, is that the measure is better than the pro-NSA bill that is currently in the House Intelligence Committee.

Amash hints at anti-NSA amendment should proposed reforms fall short

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a fierce critic of NSA, may once again try to push an amendment to end the intelligence agency’s bulk metadata collection program if dueling legislative proposals pushed by the White House and House Intelligence Committee don’t rein in the controversial intelligence agency:

“We don’t have enough information about the administration’s proposal to really understand where they’re going with it,” Amash said Wednesday.

“We’ve seen some of what the House Intelligence Committee has put out. … Based on what I’ve read about it, it appears to expand the NSA’s authority,” he said. “It doesn’t end bulk collection but actually puts more Americans in danger of having their constitutionally protected rights violated.”
Amash said Wednesday that he is waiting to see what happens with [the USA FREEDOM Act] before deciding whether to push his amendment once again.

“We’ll do it if we need to do it,” Amash said.

“I’d like to see comprehensive legislation like the USA Freedom Act go forward,” he said. “We are certainly willing to consider adding ideas from the Intelligence Committee, from the administration, to that legislation, but if no legislation is going to go forward to protect the rights of Americans, then I’m certainly open to offering further amendments.”

The hypocrisy of Dianne Feinstein

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) spoke out yesterday morning about the accusations that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had accessed committee staffers’ computers. In a 40-plus minute speech, Feinstein accused the agency of removing documents related to its investigation into the agency’s Bush-era detention and interrogation programs and intimidation:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that the situation amounted to an attempted intimidation of congressional investigators, adding: “I am not taking it lightly.”

She confirmed that an internal agency investigation of the action has been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. And she accused the CIA of violating the Fourth Amendment, various federal laws and a presidential executive order that bars the agency from conducting domestic searches and surveillance.

She has sought an apology and recognition that the CIA search of the committee’s computers was inappropriate, but said: “I have received neither.”

RNC denounces NSA’s “unconstitutional surveillance”

In the latest example of the growing libertarian influence inside the GOP, the Republican National Committee (RNC) passed a resolution on Friday renouncing the National Security Agency’s phone metadata collection program:

During its winter meeting in Washington, the committee on Friday overwhelmingly approved a measure calling for lawmakers to end the program and create a special committee to investigate domestic surveillance efforts.

The resolution, which declared that “unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights,” among other condemnations, passed the committee on a voice vote with near-unanimous support. Only a small minority of the 168 RNC members dissented.

The committee criticized the government’s bulk collection of records about all phone calls, which emerged as one of the most controversial programs revealed in leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. That NSA effort “is in itself contrary to the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the RNC said in the resolution.
The resolution called for Republican lawmakers to create a new panel “to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying” and to develop recommendations to end “unconstitutional surveillance” and hold officials responsible for the snooping “accountable.”

Senator to sue over congressional Obamacare subsidies

The controversial decision by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that allows members of Congress and their staffers to keep generous subsidies for Obamacare is headed to court, via Politico:

Sen. Ron Johnson plans to file a lawsuit Monday against the Office of Personnel Management over its policy permitting lawmakers and Hill staff to receive Obamacare subsidies for their health plans.

The Wisconsin Republican and other opponents of the policy say that the OPM decision to allow the government to fund a portion of members’ and staffers’ health insurance is not authorized in the text of the Affordable Care Act.

Johnson has scheduled a news conference for 12:15 p.m. Monday on Capital Hill to discuss the suit. He will appear with Paul Clement, a high-profile attorney and former U.S. solicitor general who represented 26 states in their lawsuit against Obamacare’s individual mandate. Clement, an appellate lawyer, is supporting Johnson for possible appeals. Rick Esenberg, founder and president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, will be his lead attorney.

The ObamaCare fix — or “exemption” — has been a hot button issue in Washington. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) pushed an amendment during the debate over Obamacare that required members of Congress and staffers to enroll in a health plan on the exchanges.

House Republicans ask DOJ to investigate James Clapper

A group of seven House Republicans have fired off a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in which they urged the Justice Department to investigate whether Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied in congressional testimony.

“Congressional oversight depends on truthful testimony—witnesses cannot be allowed to lie to Congress,” the House Republicans wrote to Holder on Thursday. “Accordingly, we request you investigate Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s ‘erroneous’ statements to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence earlier this year.”

The seven Republicans who signed the letter are Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Ted Poe (R-TX).

Clapper was asked a very direct question by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

“No, sir,” replied Clapper. Still, Wyden pressed him. Clapper again denied that the NSA was collecting data on Americans, saying, “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

NSA report undermines government claims of foiled terrorist attacks

Since the disclosures of the National Security Agency’s vast domestic surveillance programs became public knowledge, President Barack Obama and congressional supporters have repeatedly said that the bulk data collection of phone records is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks.

Intelligence officials have gone so far to claim that some 50 terror plots have been foiled because of the program. That number was repeated by President Obama. “Lives have been saved,” he insisted in June shortly after the initial disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The credibility of this claim was already significantly diminished in October, when NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander admitted in congressional testimony that he had inflated the number of purportedly foiled plots.

“These weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all foiled, would you agree with that, yes or no?” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked the NSA chief. “Yes,” said Alexander.

The claim has been even further undermined by the White House Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, the five-member panel that reviewed the programs and made a number recommendations to President Barack Obama that would reform the NSA and provide for more accountability and transparency.

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