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The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today ruled that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephony metadata is illegal. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) had the following response:

“Today’s court decision reaffirms what I’ve been saying since the Snowden leaks came to light. Congress never intended Section 215 to allow bulk collection. This program is illegal and based on a blatant misinterpretation of the law. It’s time for Congress to pass the USA FREEDOM Act in order to protect both civil liberties and national security with legally authorized surveillance.”

The House Judiciary Committee today approved by a vote of 25-2 the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048). This bipartisan bill – introduced by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), along with 19 other bipartisan House Judiciary Committee cosponsors – reforms our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The USA FREEDOM Act expands upon the civil liberties protections contained in the bill approved by the House of Representatives last year. It ends bulk collection of data, strengthens protections for civil liberties, increases transparency, and prevents government overreach, while also protecting national security. The bill is supported by a broad coalition of civil liberties advocates and technology groups, and has been vetted by national security agencies.

Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner, Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, and Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee Ranking Member Nadler praised today’s Committee vote in the joint statement below. 
“Today’s strong, bipartisan vote in the House Judiciary Committee to approve the USA FREEDOM Act demonstrates that surveillance reform is not a partisan issue, it’s an American issue. The USA FREEDOM Act reforms our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs to ensure they operate in a manner that reflects core American values. This bill ends bulk collection once and for all, enhances civil liberties protections, increases transparency for both American businesses and the government, and provides national security officials targeted tools to keep America safe from foreign enemies.

“We urge both the House and Senate to move expeditiously on this legislation so that we rein in government overreach and rebuild trust with the American people.”

Key Components of the USA FREEDOM Act:

Protects civil liberties: 
• Ends bulk collection: Prohibits bulk collection of ALL records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the FISA pen register authority, and national security letter statutes.
• Prevents government overreach: The bulk collection prohibition is strengthened by prohibiting large-scale, indiscriminate collection, such as all records from an entire state, city, or zip code. 
• Allows challenges of national security letter gag orders:  NSL nondisclosure orders must be based upon a danger to national security or interference with an investigation. Codifies procedures for individual companies to challenge nondisclosure orders.  Requires periodic review of nondisclosure orders to determine necessity.

Improves transparency and better information-sharing with the American people:
• Expertise at the FISA court:  The bill creates a panel of amicus curie at the FISA court to provide guidance on matters of privacy and civil liberties, communications technology, and other technical or legal matters.
• Declassified FISA opinions: All significant constructions or interpretations of law by the FISA court must be made public.  These include all significant interpretations of the definition of “specific selection term,” the concept at the heart of the ban on bulk collection.
• Robust government reporting: The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will provide the public with detailed information about how they use these national security authorities.
• Robust company reporting:  Tech companies will have a range of options for describing how they respond to national security orders, all consistent with national security needs.  

Strengthens national security:
• Gives the government the tools it needs:  Creates a new call detail records program that is closely overseen by the FISA court.
• Contains an additional tool to combat ISIL:  The bill closes a loophole in current law that requires the government to stop tracking foreign terrorists when they enter the U.S. This provision gives the government 72 hours to track foreign terrorists when they initially enter the United States (it does not apply to U.S. persons) – enough time for the government to obtain the proper authority under U.S. law.
• Increases the statutory maximum prison sentence to 20 years for providing material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. 
• Enhances investigations of international proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
• Protects United States’ maritime activities from nuclear threats, weapons of mass destruction, and other threats by implementing the obligations of various treaties to which the United States is a party.
• Provides strictly limited emergency authorities:  Creates new procedures for the emergency use of Section 215 but requires the government to destroy the information it collects if a FISA court application is denied.

Learn more about the USA Freedom Act by clicking here.

Almost two years after the disclosure of the government’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records, Congress is confronting a fast-approaching deadline to either continue the collection or end it.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill aimed at blocking the National Security Agency from collecting the phone records of millions of Americans. The effort was described by its sponsors as a balanced approach that would ensure the NSA maintains an ability to obtain the data it needs to detect terrorist plots without infringing on Americans’ right to privacy.

Congress failed to advance similar legislation last year, and some officials say the agency should not face new constraints at a time of deep concern over the threat from terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.

But given the politics on the Hill, in which liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans have made common cause, leaders on both sides of the Capitol appear to recognize that maintaining the NSA’s current authorities might not be tenable.

The government’s underlying authority to conduct bulk collection expires on June 1, with the “sunsetting” of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

The act was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to give law enforcement and intelligence officials more tools to thwart terrorist threats. But it was also to secretly authorize a sweeping collection of Americans’ phone records. The disclosure of the program in June 2013 prompted a backlash and led President Obama to call for changes that would end the NSA’s collection while at the same time preserving its access to the records of terrorist suspects.

“If enacted, our bill will be the most significant reform to government surveillance authorities since the USA Patriot Act was passed nearly 14 years ago,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. “Our bill will definitively end the NSA’s bulk collection under Section 215. The USA Freedom Act is a path forward that has the support of the administration, privacy groups, the technology industry — and most importantly, the American people.”

Leahy, along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), are co-sponsors of the USA Freedom Act, the legislation that was introduced Tuesday. In addition to ending bulk surveillance, the bill would require the nation’s secretive surveillance court to provide a public summary or redacted version of significant opinions.

It would also grant technology companies more leeway to report on the scale of national security requests for data they receive, and it would provide for an advocate for the public’s privacy rights at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which generally hears only the government’s side of an argument.

The leaders of the House Judiciary Committee introduced an identical bill Tuesday. House leadership is hopeful that the USA Freedom Act will pass, given the adoption by a 303-to-121 bipartisan vote of a modified version last year. The bill also would renew two other surveillance powers used in such investigations that are likewise set to expire.

“It is imperative that we reform these programs to protect Americans’ privacy while at the same time protecting our national security,” Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), a lead sponsor, chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and ranking Democrat John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) said in a joint statement. The bill’s aim, they said, is “to rein in government overreach and rebuild trust with the American people.”

Failure to renew Section 215 would mean not only the end of the NSA program but of an authority that enables the government to obtain all manner of records — or “any tangible things” — in national security investigations.

“It would send a terrible message of congressional inattention to its duty to keep intelligence statutes up to date if those provisions were allowed to lapse,” said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr have introduced a bill to extend through 2020 the authority for NSA bulk collection under Section 215. Yet even McConnell has told reporters that some changes are likely and that the endpoint probably will be “somewhere between” USA Freedom and his own bill.

Some lawmakers have also introduced a bill, the Surveillance State Repeal Act, that would repeal the entire Patriot Act and other surveillance laws, but prospects for that bill appear dim, even some supporters concede.

Although Obama called for an end to the NSA’s storage of the data, he left it to Congress to figure out a way to preserve the agency’s access to the data it needs. Under the program, each day major U.S. phone companies give the agency all customers’ “call detail records,’’ or numbers dialed and call times and durations but not actual content.

The USA Freedom Act would end bulk collection by requiring the government to seek records from companies using a “specific selection term” that identifies a specific person, account or address and “is used to limit . . . the scope” of records sought. The term may not be a phone or Internet company. Nor may it be a broad geographic region, such as a state, city or even Zip code.

The bill is the result of lengthy negotiations not only among key members of the Judiciary Committee but with administration officials, privacy advocates and tech companies. In the past week, sponsors won the support of the House Intelligence Committee.

“The USA Freedom Act is not as comprehensive as we would prefer,” said Harley Geiger, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology. “But CDT supports the bill because we believe it ends domestic bulk collection under the Patriot Act.” He said if the authority is permitted to expire, mass records-gathering could carry on under other laws.

Other civil liberties advocates say the bill does not go far enough and they would rather see Section 215 expire. “The disclosures of the last two years make clear that we need wholesale reform, not just tinkering around the edges,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The sky isn’t going to fall for the FBI if Section 215 sunsets. The government has multiple other authorities it can use to collect records about suspected terrorists.”

There is wide consensus that the House lacks the votes to pass a “clean reauthorization,” as McConnell would like. That prospect is also unlikely in the Senate. “At this point, it’s either sunset or meaningful reform,” said one aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “Everything else fails in one chamber or the other.”

The House is in recess next week. And the effective deadline for action is May 21 because Congress is on Memorial Day recess until June 1.

“Everyone is going to be looking for a last-minute compromise,” said former NSA general counsel Stewart A. Baker, “one that can be sold as a responsible solution that provides substantial counterterrorism coverage while adding protections for civil liberties.”

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) today introduced a resolution pertaining to the international climate change negotiations.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “While negotiating an international climate change deal, it is important that we hold other countries accountable to the same degree we hold ourselves. The Obama Administration should not give China and India a free pass on emissions, nor should it support any agreement that negatively impacts the U.S. economy. This resolution also emphasizes that negotiators should address intellectual property rights in order to protect American technology that will lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

Chairman Smith: “The president should not bypass Congress and try to negotiate a climate deal on his own that would cost American jobs. The president’s far-reaching proposals would do lasting damage to our nation, all for little to no environmental benefit. Even if fully implemented, the president’s international climate pledge is estimated to prevent only a 0.03° C temperature rise. But we will never reach the president’s arbitrary targets without Americans being subjected to increased electricity costs, energy rationing and reduced economic growth. The United States should not sign any climate deal that will make the government bigger and Americans poorer.”

Chairman Ryan: “This is about fairness and holding other countries to the same standards we set for ourselves.  We have to be environmentally conscientious when making policy decisions, but we also need to make sure we’re not hurting our economy by applying unnecessary pressures on families and small businesses.  America shouldn’t support any agreement that doesn’t level the playing field and ensure other developed nations play by the same rules.”

On April 15, taxpayers across the country were once again reminded just how convoluted and outdated our tax system is.  Congress must act to simplify the federal tax code and protect Americans from excessive rates and unfair collection practices.

An example of our flawed Internal Revenue Code is the federal estate tax, or more commonly referred to as the “death tax.” By imposing up to a 40 percent tax on the transfer of a deceased individual’s assets, the death tax often forces surviving relatives to sell their family business, farm land, or other assets to comply with the federal government.

While portrayed by some as a profitable tax on the wealthiest Americans, studies have shown the tax is a declining source of revenue that hits minority, women, and family-owned businesses and farms the hardest. Wisconsin is one of 30 states that eliminated its state estate tax in recognition of its failures, but Wisconsinites still must comply with federal death tax statutes.

The federal estate tax is duplicative, forcing families to pay additional taxes on assets that have already been taxed for years, and ineffective, providing only 0.6 percent of the federal government's total revenue each year.

According to the Tax Foundation, repealing the death tax would create 139,000 jobs and gradually increase the U.S. capital stock by 2.2 percent. The United States has the fourth highest estate tax in the world, which hinders economic growth and international competition.

This week, H.R. 1105, the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 240-179. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass it expeditiously and send it to the President’s desk. We should eliminate this stifling and misguided tax and provide security for the family businesses and farms that fuel our economy.

It’s time to repeal the death tax.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today reintroduced H.R. 1861, the Stop Motorcycle Checkpoint Funding Act. This bill would prohibit the Department of Transportation (DOT) from providing grants to a state or local entity to create motorcycle only checkpoints (MOCs) and ban DOT from manipulating states to enact helmet laws with federal money.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “This bill protects motorcyclists’ rights and promotes crash prevention. Motorcycle only checkpoints profile motorcyclists—using taxpayer money to corral them along the highway and check for infractions that do not cause crashes. Preventing accidents is the best use of taxpayer funds and the most effective way to save motorcyclists’ lives. I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.”