The debate over government surveillance is coming to a head in the U.S. House, which is expected to vote Wednesday on a bill by GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner to reform key aspects of the 14-year-old Patriot Act.

"My bill ends bulk (data) collection on American citizens, period," the Wisconsin congressman said Tuesday, referring to the government's "dragnet" of domestic call records, a once-secret program whose existence was leaked two years ago by Edward Snowden.

The debate over National Security Agency surveillance crosses party lines and divides the GOP presidential field, pitting national security hawks against privacy and civil liberties advocates.

In an interview Tuesday, Sensenbrenner described his legislation as a compromise between those different values and missions.

"You've got (Sen.) Rand Paul on one side and his colleague from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, on the other side," said Sensenbrenner, referring to the debate within his own party. "I think both of them are wrong."

Three key provisions of the Patriot Act, including the one (known as Section 215) used to authorize mass surveillance, are scheduled to "sunset" on June 1, which means they will expire unless they are renewed or revised.

The Sensenbrenner bill, titled the USA Freedom Act, has critics in both camps. Defenders of the National Security Agency's mass surveillance program say the measure will hamstring an important anti-terrorism tool. Critics of the program complain the bill doesn't go far enough in protecting the privacy of American citizens.

The measure is expected to pass the House with significant support from both parties. President Barack Obama's administration gave the bill its formal blessing Tuesday, saying it strengthens privacy and civil liberties protections "while preserving essential authorities our intelligence and law enforcement professionals need to protect the nation."

But its outlook is less clear-cut in the Senate, where McConnell — the majority leader — opposes the legislation.

The measure contains several changes to the Patriot Act, but its treatment of "bulk collection" has gotten the most attention. As revealed in the Snowden leaks, the NSA used the law to collect and store data en masse on Americans' landline calls — not the contents of calls, but the records of who called whom, when the calls were made and how long they lasted.

As House judiciary chairman at the time, Sensenbrenner was a key architect of the original 2001 Patriot Act, which the government relied on to gather the data. But after the Snowden leaks, the Menomonee Falls Republican assailed the surveillance program, saying it went beyond what he and other lawmakers intended and beyond the language of the law.

A federal appeals court ruled last week that the program was illegal, and Sensenbrenner cites that ruling as an argument for the bill he fashioned with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and others in both parties.

The measure requires the government to show that individuals whose records it seeks have a connection to espionage or terrorism.

"This is really in my opinion an essential element to make sure the government does not grab up information on innocent people," said Sensenbrenner. "I have nothing against government using the judicial process to get information on those suspected of criminal activity. But when you're talking about everybody that makes phone calls in the U.S., and they're not suspected of doing anything criminal, there's no reason for the government to get those records."

Sensenbrenner blamed the mass surveillance program on overreach by both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations and a failure of congressional oversight.

Within Sensenbrenner's own party, McConnell and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a presidential hopeful, have defended the law as written.

McConnell said last week that the program allows the NSA to connect the dots of potential terrorist activity by mining a vast database of call records.

"Section 215 helps us find the needle in a haystack. But under the USA Freedom Act, there may not be a haystack to look through at all," he said.

But Paul, McConnell's Kentucky colleague and one of Rubio's presidential rivals, says Congress should let the relevant provisions in the Patriot Act simply expire, rather than modify them.

"I'm a Republican who does believe in the right to privacy," says Paul.

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