Unless strict limits are placed on the Patriot Act's broad surveillance powers, the legislation will likely be killed altogether when it expires in 2015, the Act's author, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, predicts.
"There is no limit — apparently, according to the NSA — on what they can collect," the Republican from Wisconsin told The Hill
. "That has got to be stopped.
"If the Patriot Act came up for a reauthorization vote today without changes, there would be an 'overwhelming vote against it,'" Sensenbrenner added, citing 107 co-sponsors of his USA Freedom Act.
Sensenbrenner is incensed over what he calls a "
lack of oversight" since Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act in 2006. He, along with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, co-authored the Patriot Act, which Sensenbrenner said never was intended
to "give the government boundless surveillance powers that could sweep in the data of countless innocent Americans."
He repeated his call for National Intelligence Director James Clapper to be fired and prosecuted
lying" to Congress about U.S. surveillance programs.
"If it's a criminal offense — and I believe Mr. Clapper has committed a criminal offense — then the Justice Department ought to do its job," Sensenbrenner told The Hill.
American intelligence protocols have been in the international spotlight since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked up to 200,000 classified documents earlier this year.
The disclosures include the global interception of cellphones and other forms of electronic communication, including email, search engines and even popular video games
like World of Warcraft.
Snowden's leaks have embarrassed the administration and caused international tension after it was revealed the United States spied on many allies and their leaders, including Germany, Brazil, Mexico
Sensenbrenner and Leahy penned an op-ed
piece in October condemning "the dragnet collection of millions of Americans' phone records every day — whether they have any connection at all to terrorism."
The legislators have introduced the USA Freedom Act, which they say preserves the intelligence community's ability to gather information in a more focused way, but prohibits the "carte-blanche approach to records collection or enact secret laws by covertly reinterpreting congressional intent."
Sensenbrenner accuses the House and Senate intelligence committees of offering specious reforms that purportedly "promote transparency but would endorse the phone collection data."
He slammed a bill authored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California that would allow the NSA to collect the phone metadata of millions of Americans for renewable 90-day periods, and allow the government to retain it. "The Feinstein bill is a joke," he said.
Sensenbrenner described Feinstein’s posture as, "if you like your NSA, you can keep it."
Feinstein has said the collection of cellphone data is a legal practice that contributes to national security.
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