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The NSA's overreach has infringed on American civil liberties, damaged diplomatic efforts with our allies and tarnished the integrity of the intelligence community.

Of course, this debate over the NSA's bulk collection of phone records is no longer simply a discussion about balancing national security and privacy. Americans' personal information, constitutional rights and livelihoods are at stake. Citizens and businesses of Wisconsin's Fifth District and around the country have been very clear: the indiscriminate, bulk collection of Americans' data must be stopped.

Congress has an obligation to hold the NSA accountable and deliver effective reforms that strengthen personal privacy safeguards and individual control over our most sensitive information. That’s why I joined with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to introduce the USA FREEDOM Act, which would end bulk collection, reform the secret FISA Court, increase transparency and protect our constitutional right to privacy.

With over 100 bipartisan cosponsors and the support of businesses, our friends abroad and advocacy groups ranging from the ACLU to the NRA, I am confident that the USA FREEDOM Act is the most responsible approach to reform American surveillance.

This bill is largely about accountability and transparency. And in that spirit, I’m gathering as much input as possible from my constituents.  Your questions, ideas and opinions will help me deliver reforms that work best for you and your neighbors in the Badger State.

Thanks to a new online tool named Madison, we can have an open and constructive debate on the USA FREEDOM Act. Click here to sign up for Madison. Together we can strengthen your privacy rights through this comprehensive bill. I look forward to working with you in this interactive forum.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), coauthors of the USA FREEDOM Act to end dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records, Thursday welcomed the support of a broad coalition of technology companies, trade associations and nonprofit organizations that advocate “privacy protections, oversight and accountability mechanisms that govern” surveillance authorities.

In a letter to Leahy and Sensenbrenner, the group of nearly 60 signees including Hewlett-Packard, Dropbox and Tumblr outline their priorities to address privacy and transparency concerns raised by revelations of sweeping surveillance use. They call for legislation to allow companies to disclose surveillance requests, to provide greater transparency on government use of surveillance authorities, to focus intelligence gathering on foreign powers, and to protect constitutional and human rights. A copy of the letter is below and available online.

The USA FREEDOM Act, which Leahy and Sensenbrenner introduced last month, would end the dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and ensure that other authorities cannot be used to justify similar dragnet collection. The bill also provides more safeguards for warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act.

The bill includes other significant privacy and oversight provisions, provides for the creation of a Special Advocate to focus on the protection of privacy rights and civil liberties before the FISA Court, and requires more detailed public reporting about the number and types of FISA orders that are issued.

The USA FREEDOM Act has over 115 cosponsors in the House and Senate and is supported by dozens of groups and businesses crossing the political spectrum. 

By Jim Sensenbrenner

Published on November 20, 2013


Technology companies revolutionized the global economy by creating an interconnected, high-speed international marketplace.

Internet and telecommunication companies empower businesses to conduct complex transactions and connect with customers, clients and governments across the globe, placing a premium on privacy, accountability and transparency.  These principles are the currency of their success, because as private citizens, we entrust these companies with very personal information.

The overreach by the National Security Agency (NSA) does more than infringe on American civil liberties. It poses a serious threat to our economic vitality. Reports from the business community are clear: indiscriminate collection of data by the NSA damages American companies' growth, credibility, competitive advantage and bottom line.

US companies seeking to expand to lucrative markets in Europe and Asia will find regulatory environments much less receptive to mergers and acquisitions because of NSA programs. German regulatory officials have made it clear, for instance, that AT&T, a massive American telecommunications company that provided customer telephone numbers to the NSA as ordered by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (known as the Fisa court), would undergo intense scrutiny to ensure it complies with German privacy laws before it can acquire a German telecommunications company. This mandate would certainly impede efforts to expand its presence in the region.

Of course, US tech companies do not exist in a vacuum, free from competition. Companies like Google, which exhibit clear dominance in the United States, compete intensely with foreign competitors around the world. American businesses will lose considerable market share if foreign competitors and regulators paint them as pawns of the US intelligence community. Cisco Systems warned that its revenues could fall by as much as 10% because of the level of uncertainty or concerns engendered by NSA operations. Cisco saw its new orders fall by 12% in the developing world, 25% in Brazil and 30% in Russia. This is in contrast to the 8% growth Cisco saw in the previous quarter.

The cloud computing industry will also suffer. Since many industries rely heavily on this technology, any disruption would ripple across all segments of the national economy. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the US cloud computing industry could lose between $22 and $35bn (pdf) over the next three years because of the NSA's overreach. And smaller cloud service providers that partner with U.S. companies have already cancelled contracts.

After the revelations of abuse surfaced in June, I knew Congress must act to mitigate the negative effects on our civil liberties and economy. With these concerns in mind, I introduced the USA Freedom Act with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Democrat from Vermont).

As part of its business provisions, the USA Freedom Act increases transparency by giving internet and telecom companies the ability to publicly disclose the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) orders and national security letters they received, as well as how many orders they complied with. It will also allow companies to divulge how many users or accounts on whom information was demanded under the Fisa orders and national security letters.

In a joint letter, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Google and LinkedIn wrote: "Transparency is a critical first step to an informed public debate, but it is clear that more needs to be done.  Our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements for privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs."

Mozilla praised the Freedom Act as "an important step toward rebuilding user trust by adding limitations on government collection of data in the name of national security. The idea is simple. The NSA should not have a blank check to access user data from technology companies."

The Software Alliance understood the international implications of the legislation, explaining, "It is critical that we restore the public's trust by improving transparency and showing the world that the United States is striking the right balance between national security needs and individual privacy."

These endorsements send a clear message: transparency and privacy are paramount for internet and telecommunication companies. It is the bedrock of their credibility and stability as corporate entities.

Unfortunately, on 31 October, the Senate Intelligence Committee – created to conduct oversight on these programs – abdicated leadership and responsibility by voting for the first time in our country's history to allow unrestrained spying on innocent Americans.

But with over 100 cosponsors covering the political spectrum, my colleagues and I will continue to work pragmatically towards the balanced approach supported by the American people, businesses and our friends abroad.

Genuine reform is a Constitutional and economic necessity. If the USA Freedom Act is brought to the floors of Congress for an up or down vote, I am confident it will pass with strong bipartisan support.

View online: theguardian
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, presented the keynote address on surveillance and foreign intelligence gathering in the United States at the Georgetown University Law Center. His prepared remarks can be viewed here
 
Congressman Sensenbrenner and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced H.R. 3361/S. 1599, the USA FREEDOM Act, which seeks to restore Americans’ privacy rights by ending the government’s dragnet collection of phone records and requiring greater oversight, transparency and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance authorities.  

The comprehensive USA FREEDOM Act has over 100 bipartisan cosponsors in the House and Senate and has been endorsed by groups ranging from the NRA to the ACLU. It also has garnered the support of technology companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Mozilla.
 
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy today following her November 14th testimony before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. The subject of the hearing was “Strengthening Transparency and Accountability within the Environmental Protection Agency.” Congressman Sensenbrenner questioned Administrator McCarthy on E15.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “There have been several tests highlighting E15’s harmful effects on engines, but they have all been dismissed by the EPA. However, I am encouraged that Administrator McCarthy feels “additional research that’s done credibly and transparent is always welcome,” because my bill requires just that. Americans using gas-powered machinery should not be put in danger due to faulty fuel that has not been adequately vetted. I expect a timely response from Administrator McCarthy and encourage her to endorse H.R. 875.”

Congressman Sensenbrenner introduced H.R. 875, which would repeal the EPA’s waiver decision approving the use of E15 and the authority of the agency to grant further decisions until the EPA seeks an independent scientific analysis.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, and Congressman Danny Davis (D-Ill.) today introduced H.R. 3465, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act, with the support of Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Congressman Howard Coble (R-N.C.) and others.

The Second Chance Act was passed by Congress with strong bipartisan support and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008. This legislation provides non-profit faith and community-based organizations with mentoring grants to develop support programs such as drug treatment, housing, job training, medical care and education. Re-entry services have been improved, which has resulted in a reduction in recidivism and helped ensure a successful return to society for prisoners who have completed their sentence.

The Second Chance Reauthorization Act builds on the success of the original legislation and continues to authorize funding for both public and private entities to evaluate and improve academic and vocational education for offenders in prison, jails and juvenile facilities.  

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner:
“As chairman of the Over-Criminalization Task Force, I am committed to strengthening our criminal justice system to ensure prisons serve as a deterrent and a place where people can be rehabilitated. There is overwhelming evidence that the Second Chance Act has been a resounding success by helping fully integrate prisoners back into society. Education and positive reinforcement are some of the most effective tools to prevent illegal behavior, and this law has improved re-entry services – not only saving taxpayer dollars, but changing lives, strengthening families and improving our communities. Reauthorization of these programs is important.”

Congressman Danny Davis: “The second chance law has proven to seriously help reduce recidivism and provide hope for large numbers of individuals to turn their lives around and become productive citizens who can contribute to the well-being of society.”

Congressman John Conyers: “Reauthorization of the Second Chance Act is critical to disrupting the prison pipeline which has plagued so many minority communities across the nation. By supporting community based re-entry programs, this legislation provides critical assistance to those emerging from our jails and prisons, allowing them to rebuild their families and become productive members of our society. I hope that this bipartisan effort will have success similar to our original effort in 2007, so that we can speed this to the President’s desk.”

Congressman Howard Coble: “When we authored the Second Chance Act, it was a break with the past.  No longer would we just warehouse prisoners without any hope of offering these criminals a way to change their lives.  The Second Chance Act provides those convicted of crimes with the counseling, training and education that is needed before they are released from prison.  It is a concrete program to slow the rate of recidivism and it is working.”   

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and author of the USA PATRIOT Act, testified today in Brussels before the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee.  

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “I firmly believe the Patriot Act saved lives by strengthening the ability of intelligence agencies to track and stop potential terrorists, but in the past few years, the National Security Agency has weakened, misconstrued and ignored the civil liberty protections we drafted into the law. To address these issues, I have introduced the USA FREEDOM Act along with Senator Patrick Leahy, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to curtail surveillance abuses and restore trust in the US intelligence community.  
 
“International cooperation is crucial to stopping terrorism, but trust is also integral.  I ask my friends in the European Parliament to work pragmatically with the United States to continue balanced efforts to protect our nations.  Together we can rebuild trust while defending civil liberties and national security on both sides of the Atlantic.”

View prepared statement here

It is impossible to forget the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And it is not easy to forget what followed: fear, anger and an upwelling of patriotism. Throughout our nation's history, we've fought in wars both at home and abroad, but until that day, most Americans felt invincible from an attack from the outside world.

Following 9-11, the United States felt an unfamiliar vulnerability, but we also felt more unified than ever.

Congress knew it had to act to enhance the tools the intelligence community needed to identify and track terrorists, but we never forgot what makes our country great: freedoms and liberties unlike anywhere else in the world. I led a bicameral group of legislators that came together and passed the USA Patriot Act with strong bipartisan support.

President Ronald Reagan said, "trust but verify." After 9-11, with the country at risk and poised to enter its most intensive conflict since the Vietnam War, Congress extended the administration broader powers to help protect the American people. But the National Security Agency abused that trust.

It ignored restrictions painstakingly crafted by lawmakers and assumed a plenary authority never imagined by Congress. Worse, the NSA has cloaked its operations behind such a thick cloud of secrecy that, even if our trust was restored, Congress and the American people would lack the ability to verify it.

Our constitutional democracy was built to be accountable to the people. That principle can never be compromised.

Earlier this year, Americans were rightly outraged to learn that the NSA is collecting in bulk the phone records of nearly every American. More recently, the media has revealed additional classified information that has added to our concerns.

Since the revelation that the NSA is collecting the details of Americans' phone calls on an unprecedented scale, we have learned that the government searches the content of huge troves of emails, collects in bulk the address books from email accounts and social networking sites, at least temporarily collected geolocation data from our cellphones, committed thousands of privacy violations and lied to courts and Congress. This is not the America our founders envisioned.

Not only do many of these programs raise serious legal questions, they have come at a high cost to Americans' privacy rights, business interests and standing in the international community.

On Oct. 31, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to give the NSA the authority to collect private data on innocent Americans. In an 11-4 vote, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) presided over the first congressional vote in our country's history to allow unrestrained spying on the American people.

I am committed to a different approach.

On Oct. 29, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and I came together to introduce the USA Freedom Act. The bill has co-sponsors in the Senate covering the political spectrum, and nearly 90 co-sponsors in the House — almost an even split between Republicans and Democrats.

It also has been endorsed by groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to the American Civil Liberties Union and has the support of many of the tech giants, including AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

The USA Freedom Act restores Americans' privacy rights by ending the government's dragnet collection of phone records under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act and requires greater oversight, transparency and accountability with respect to surveillance authorities.

The bill also provides more safeguards against warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act and includes significant privacy and oversight provisions, creates a special advocate to focus on the protection of privacy rights before the FISA Court and requires more detailed public reporting.

In short, the USA Freedom Act ensures the law is properly interpreted, past abuses are not repeated and American liberties are protected. And over the coming weeks and months, as more revelations are brought to light and public outrage grows, I will be working to push this important legislation through the House Judiciary Committee and onto the House floor.

There, members can cast their vote to restore trust and accountability to our intelligence community.

Spy games

November 6, 2013

The scope of domestic spying conducted by the NSA has shocked and horrified many Americans, including one of the lawmakers who made it possible: Sen. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin — one of the principal proponents of the Patriot Act. Federal authorities have stretched the language of the act to cover a host of activity Sensenbrenner says he never intended. Let that be a lesson to aspiring lawmakers everywhere.

Now Sensenbrenner has joined Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy in sponsoring new legislation to roll back some of those excesses. Their USA Freedom Act would end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. It also would add some transparency to activities conducted under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, tighten restrictions on National Security Letters, and adds a special advocate who would argue on behalf of privacy rights before the FISA court. That provision is necessary because, at present, the court hears only one side: the government’s. As a result, it routinely grants approval to surveillance requests.

This is a much better bill than its competitor, the FISA Improvements Act — which would codify current practices that should be reined in and, according to some privacy advocates, potentially make matters worse in other ways as well. The principal sponsor is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, an aggressive proponent of the surveillance state who probably wouldn’t shrink from putting a tracking collar on every U.S. resident if that were feasible.

The debate illustrates a broader point about government generally, which not only tends to retain powers long after a crisis has abated, but also tends to push the boundaries of its legal authority — sometimes to the breaking point.

View online, here.
Five months after Americans learned that information about their telephone calls was being indiscriminately scooped up by the National Security Agency, Congress seems poised to place limits on the bulk collection of telephone "metadata" — information about the source, destination and duration of telephone calls but not their contents. That's a positive development.

But there is a world of difference between the legislation approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which would make only minor improvements in the program, and a superior proposal by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) that would bring the collection of phone records into compliance with the letter and the spirit of the 4th Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the head of the Intelligence Committee, rightly says that the committee's bill "increases privacy protections and public transparency" in the phone records program. But the protections are minimal, and in return for the minor changes, Congress would give its explicit approval for the wholesale acquisition of metadata by the government. By contrast, the Leahy-Sensenbrenner bill would allow the government to acquire phone data only as part of an investigation tied to a specific suspected terrorist or foreign agent or an individual in contact with him. Bulk collection would end.

Obama administration officials insist that the metadata program is vital because it assembles a "haystack" that makes it possible for a computer search to extract the "needle" of evidence leading to the perpetrators of a terrorist plot. The government persuaded the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that such a dragnet was legal under a section of the Patriot Act authorizing the acquisition of records reasonably believed to be "relevant to an authorized investigation" of espionage or terrorism. (The FISA court also noted that the Supreme Court has afforded no privacy protection to information, such as phone records, that individuals turn over to "third parties" such as phone companies — an interpretation of the 4th Amendment that has been rendered obsolete by advances in electronic information-gathering.)

It's easy, amid the legal and technical complexities, to lose sight of the question at the heart of this debate: whether the government should be able, without a showing of probable cause of a connection to terrorism, to obtain and store information that can often provide as wide a window on the private lives of Americans as the actual contents of phone calls.

Feinstein and other defenders of the program emphasize that the database is searched or "queried" only when there is "reasonable, articulable" suspicion of a connection to terrorism. The Intelligence Committee bill would further discourage abuse by mandating an annual public accounting of the number of queries and limiting the number of people at the NSA who may authorize them.

But the mere possession of such information by the government is unsettling, and there is no guarantee that some employees with access to private information won't betray their trust. On the other side of the ledger, claims that the metadata program led to the disruption of a significant number of terrorist attacks seem to have been greatly exaggerated.

The metadata program intrudes on the privacy of virtually every American. It needs to be ended, not mended.

View online, here.