Sensenbrenner's 'Freedom Act' Aims to Limit Surveillance Program

Image: Sensenbrenner's 'Freedom Act' Aims to Limit Surveillance Program

Friday, 11 Oct 2013 12:44 PM

By Lisa Furgison

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Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the original authors of the Patriot Act, is drafting legislation to rein in the surveillance power of U.S. intelligence agencies, a move that could put an end to the NSA's massive bulk collection of Internet and telephone data.

The Wisconsin Republican is teaming up with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and House Judiciary Committee ranking Democrat John Conyers to push what he calls the USA Freedom Act, according to U.S. News & World Report.

"We must strike the proper balance between national security and privacy," Sensenbrenner told U.S. News, referring to the recent leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that revealed the existence of an agency program that scoops up the Internet and phone information of nearly all Americans, regardless of whether they are the targets of national security or terrorism investigations.

Since the Snowden disclosures earlier this year, President Barack Obama has promised more oversight of the surveillance program, but Sensenbrenner says much more needs to be done, which is why he and a group of lawmakers "who are passionate about civil liberties" have created the new bill.

According to The Guardian newspaper, the USA Freedom Act would end the mass collection of information by forcing agencies to prove to a judge that there is a reason to monitor a person's communications.

The British newspaper, which has seen the draft of the legislation, reported Thursday that the NSA and other intelligence agencies would have to show "the target" of the data collection effort "was thought to be an agent of a foreign power, was engaged in activity that was the subject of an investigation, or was an individual in contact with an agent of a foreign power."

Sensenbrenner also wants to introduce more transparency into the process. Under his bill, any time there is a significant interpretation of the law by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the attorney general must disclose the decision to the public. However, the names of targets and other important pieces of information connected to the surveillance request would still remain classified.

The bill would also put an advocate in place to represent the public's privacy concerns in court.

"This comprehensive legislation will end the bulk collection of Americans' communications records by adopting a uniform standard for intelligence gathering under Section 215 of the Patriot Act," Sensenbrenner said, US News reported. "It ends the NSA's ability to collect what they call 'a metadata program.'"

Despite having the support from key Democrats on Congress' Judiciary committees, the legislation is expected to encounter heavy opposition from both sides of the aisle, as well as the White House. Many lawmakers and the president have defended the NSA program as a necessary tool to fight terrorism, even though they have called for more transparency in how the program is carried out.

If the bill does manage to pass both chambers of Congress and Obama vetoes it, Sensenbrenner said the collection of private information from Americans would then "fall directly on the president's shoulders."

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