Patriot Act Author: Only My Anti-NSA Bill Will Close ‘Loophole’ Spying on Americans

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., will introduce the USA Freedom Act, designed to curb NSA surveillance, next week.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
April 2, 2014, 1:34 p.m.

The one-time cham­pi­on of grant­ing the in­tel­li­gence com­munity more sur­veil­lance au­thor­ity is re­doub­ling ef­forts to pass his spy­ing re­form bill amid rev­el­a­tions the NSA in­ten­tion­ally spied on Amer­ic­ans through a law meant to ap­ply only to for­eign­ers.

Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner on Wed­nes­day said his Free­dom Act would close a “loop­hole” a seni­or in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial re­cently ad­mit­ted the NSA has ex­ploited to spy on the ac­tu­al con­tents — and not just “metadata” — of Amer­ic­ans’ com­mu­nic­a­tions without a war­rant. 

“We now know Sec­tion 702 of [the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act] has been im­prop­erly used to ob­tain the con­tent of Amer­ic­ans’ private com­mu­nic­a­tions without a war­rant, which is un­con­sti­tu­tion­al un­der the Fourth Amend­ment and a blatant vi­ol­a­tion of Amer­ic­ans’ civil liber­ties,” the Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an said in a state­ment. “The USA Free­dom Act ends bulk col­lec­tion, closes the loop­hole be­ing ex­ploited to ac­cess the com­mu­nic­a­tions of Amer­ic­ans, and strikes the prop­er bal­ance between pri­vacy and se­cur­ity.”

Sec­tion 702 grants the NSA broad au­thor­ity to listen to phone calls and ac­cess emails, but is only meant to cov­er non-U.S. per­sons loc­ated out­side of the coun­try. While the agency some­times in­cid­ent­ally col­lects U.S. data dur­ing its sweep­ing col­lec­tion, Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per re­vealed this week in a let­ter to Sen. Ron Wyden that the agency has searched its data­base at times to spe­cific­ally look for Amer­ic­ans’ com­mu­nic­a­tions.

Sensen­bren­ner, who au­thored the post-9/11 Pat­ri­ot Act from which the gov­ern­ment jus­ti­fies much of its mass-sur­veil­lance au­thor­ity, be­came a born-again cru­sader against bulk data col­lec­tion last year fol­low­ing the ini­tial dis­clos­ures by Ed­ward Snowden. His Free­dom Act was in­tro­duced last fall and has ac­crued more than 140 co­spon­sors, though it has seen little mo­mentum re­cently. Sen. Patrick Leahy is spon­sor­ing mir­ror le­gis­la­tion.

Sensen­bren­ner also took a swipe at a bill in­tro­duced last month by Reps. Mike Ro­gers and Dutch Rup­pers­ber­ger, say­ing it lacked teeth and, un­like his bill, “does not” close the 702 loop­hole.

The Free­dom Act awaits judg­ment in the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, where Sensen­bren­ner, a former chair­man, cur­rently serves. The bill from Ro­gers and Rup­pers­ber­ger, however, was re­ferred to the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, which the fre­quent NSA de­fend­ers lead, prompt­ing some mem­bers of Ju­di­ciary to claim they were be­ing in­ten­tion­ally cut out of the de­bate on how to best re­form the NSA.

Sev­er­al pri­vacy and civil-liber­ties groups have in­sisted that Sensen­bren­ner’s bill is the only le­gis­la­tion that will suf­fi­ciently re­form gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance.

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