The primary sponsor of the Patriot Act will introduce a bill next week aimed at reining in the National Security Administration’s domestic-surveillance programs, backed by about 60 cosponsors, including at least a half dozen who voted against a similar, narrowly defeated measure brought to the House floor this summer.
A date has not been finalized, but the Freedom Act, written by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., could drop as early as Tuesday. It follows an amendment introduced by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., that failed by a razor-thin 205-217 margin in July.
“Six members who voted no and two who didn’t vote on the Amash amendment are original cosponsors of the USA Freedom Act,” Sensenbrenner spokesman Ben Miller told National Journal. “Had they voted for the amendment, it would have passed 213 to 211.”
Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Lee Terry, R-Neb., are among those lawmakers who voted no on the Amash amendment and are now cosponsoring Sensenbrenner’s legislation.
“Rather than defunding, Congressman Terry has always believed that changes to the Patriot Act are the appropriate way to rein in the NSA,” said spokesman Larry Farnsworth of Terry’s switch.
Sensenbrenner, who authored the Patriot Act, has become a vocal opponent of the NSA’s sweeping surveillance apparatus since Edward Snowden, a former analyst at the agency, began leaking information about its programs earlier this year. Sensenbrenner has said that both the Obama and Bush administrations have misinterpreted a key part of the Patriot Act, Section 215, and used it as legal backing for its data collection.
“The NSA has gone far beyond the intent of the Patriot Act, particularly in the accumulation and storage of metadata,” Sensenbrenner told National Journal earlier this month. “Had Congress known that the Patriot Act had been used to collect metadata, the bill would have never been passed.”
An earlier draft of Sensenbrenner’s bill that circulated publicly would make the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court more transparent by requiring it disclose some of its decisions and install an “office of the special advocate,” which would be able to appeal the court’s decisions. It would also limit Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, grant the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board subpoena powers on matters of privacy and national security, and reduce the bulk data collection outline in Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Since Amash’s attempt to restrict the NSA’s collection of phone records was defeated, the cascade of revelations about the scope of the NSA’s spying — both domestic and overseas — has continued since then. Earlier this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel charged the U.S. with monitoring her cell phone, forcing President Obama to play damage control with yet another foreign head of state.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is also expected to vote Tuesday behind closed doors on legislation brought by committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., to appease surveillance critics by increasing transparency and accountability of FISA. Many activists charge that Feinstein’s efforts do not go far enough and largely keep the NSA surveillance apparatus in tact.
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