Jim Sensenbrenner

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.

Congress and Obama’s Freedom Act bait-and-switch won’t stop Justin Amash

Amash and the NSA

A “gutted” version of the USA Freedom Act passed the House last month, but it’s unlikely to make it out of the Senate. On the day the House took the vote, original co-sponsor Justin Amash took to Facebook to explain why he would vote “no” on the final version of the bill:

I am an original cosponsor of the Freedom Act, and I was involved in its drafting. At its best, the Freedom Act would have reined in the government’s unconstitutional domestic spying programs, ended the indiscriminate collection of Americans’ private records, and made the secret FISA court function more like a real court—with real arguments and real adversaries.

I was and am proud of the work our group, led by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, did to promote this legislation, as originally drafted.

However, the revised bill that makes its way to the House floor this morning doesn’t look much like the Freedom Act.

Despite the legislative setback, Rep. Amash is committed to continuing to fight against the surveillance state. The plan is to attach a number of amendments to an upcoming defense appropriations bill.

MLive reports:

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.

Heritage Foundation may be shifting on government surveillance

Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation, considered to be one of Washington’s most influential think tanks, appears to have had a change of heart on government surveillance programs that it once supported.

Once a place where ignoring constitutionally protected civil liberties seemed to be a virtue, the conservative think tank, under the leadership of former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), recently declined to publish two papers that supported the National Security Agency’s snooping, according to Foreign Policy:

Heritage refused to publish two papers about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs written by a prominent conservative attorney. Why? Because he concluded that the programs were legal and constitutional, according to sources familiar with the matter. It was a surprising move for a think tank that has supported extension of the Patriot Act — which authorizes some of NSA’s activities — and has long been associated with right-of-center positions on national security and foreign policy.

NSA collecting 500,000 email addresses, chat-list contacts per day

government spying

There is yet another new wrinkle in the ongoing coverage of the NSA’s vast surveillance apparatus. The Washington Post reported on Monday that the intelligence agency is harvesting some 500,000 email and instant messaging chat-lists everyday, including information from Americans who are not subject of an investigation (emphasis added):

The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
[…]
Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets.

During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million a year.

Obama Administration lied about terror plots foiled by bulk data collection

NSA Director Keith Alexander

Shortly after the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of Americans became public knowledge, the Obama Administration and intelligence officials quickly sought to mitigate the damage by telling the public that the collection of phone records helped foil more than 50 terrorist plots.

But during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander admitted that the Obama Administration lied to the public about the number of terrorist attacks that had been prevented by the snooping (emphasis added):

During Wednesday’s hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy pushed Alexander to admit that plot numbers had been fudged in a revealing interchange:

“There is no evidence that [bulk] phone records collection helped to thwart dozens or even several terrorist plots,” said Leahy. The Vermont Democrat then asked the NSA chief to admit that only 13 out of a previously cited 54 cases of foiled plots were genuinely the fruits of the government’s vast dragnet surveillance systems:

“These weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all foiled,” Leahy said, asking Alexander, “Would you agree with that, yes or no?”

“Yes,” replied Alexander.

Legal challenge against NSA spying forms unlikely alliances

Though the story has lost traction in light of recent events in Syria, the American Civil Liberties Union’s legal challenge against the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs is gaining steam.

The ACLU announced on Wednesday that the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who authored the law the government is using to collect phone and Internet metadata of innocent Americans, have filed amicus briefs in support of the legal challenge against the NSA:

An impressive array of organizations and individuals filed amicus briefs yesterday in support of the ACLU’s constitutional challenge to the government’s collection of the call records of virtually everyone in the United States. The range of voices joining the protest against mass government surveillance—not to mention the bipartisan storm that has swept Congress since the recent NSA disclosures — is a real testament to the fact that the government’s dragnet surveillance practices are offensive to Americans from across the political spectrum.

PATRIOT Act author slams Obama Administration over NSA spying

James Sensenbrenner

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on FISA, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) slammed the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which allows intelligence and law enforcement agencies to access third-party records, and warned Deputy Attorney General James Cole that it may be not be renewed next year.

The NSA has used Section 215 to obtained authority to force cell phone providers to turn over the phone records of virtually every American, even if they are not suspected of terrorist activity. The catch is that this provision of the PATRIOT Act is only supposed to used in ongoing investigations into terrorist activity.

By so broadly seizing phone records, the Obama Administration is effectively saying that every American is a suspected terrorist. Sensenbrenner suggested that this is a “mockery of the legal standard” in the PATRIOT Act, noting that the intelligence community is “trying to have it both ways.”

Cole disputed the assertion, but Sensenbrenner wasn’t satisfied.


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