Once Opposed, Key Lawmakers Back New Anti-NSA Bill

The bill, penned by the congressman who drafted the Patriot Act, will drop next week. And it could have the votes to pass.

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
Oct. 25, 2013, 1:27 p.m.

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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