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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.

Feinstein’s deception

November 3, 2013

Congress enacted an affordable health care bill that's making a lot of people sick, requiring them to pay more for their insurance. It enacted a stimulus bill that put a wet blanket on the economy, and now it's considering a bill to "reform" the snoopery of the National Security Agency by increasing the agency's surveillance power.

The Senate Intelligence Committee pulled this bait-and-switch maneuver last week, claiming to restrain domestic spying with legislation that actually gives legal cover for the constitutionally dubious collection of telephone calls, emails and metadata from millions of Americans. The bill "prohibits" metadata collection "unless" certain procedures are followed. Orders for collection can only be effective for 90 days, but can be extended as many times as the agency wants. The spies must cross their hearts and hope to die if they look at the private Facebook snapshots of celebrities or read the emails of an ex-wife. No gossips allowed.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the intelligence panel and sometimes sounds skeptical of intelligence abuses, devised this defense of the spying enterprise. "This program helps 'connect the dots,' the main failure of our intelligence before 9/11," she argued in an op-ed essay in USA Today. Had the NSA been recording everyone's telephone calls 12 years ago, she says, the hijackers would have been caught.

Perhaps, but probably not. Domestic surveillance was abundant in April, yet Islamic extremists set off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 264 spectators. Mass surveillance is no guarantee of safety.

Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, actually opposes the domestic spy program. "The NSA's ongoing, invasive surveillance of Americans' private information," he says, "does not respect our constitutional values and needs fundamental reform — not incidental changes."

He's joined by a key Republican in the House, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, who proposes legislation to eliminate the bulk collection of emails and metadata, clarifying the Patriot Act provision that intelligence agencies cite to justify their snooping. The technology giants AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo joined Friday in backing this restraint. The companies have faced the wrath of customers upset that the firms have been colluding with the spy agencies to hand over private communications under court orders.

The meaning and intent of the Fourth Amendment is straightforward; namely, that the government can only read the "papers" of a particular person if there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed, and must have a warrant. Mr. Sensenbrenner's measure is the wise and honest way to compel government agencies into line with their constitutional duties.

View online, here.

By Jim Sensenbrenner

Published on November 2, 2013

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.

View online, here.
Jim Sensenbrenner was the chief congressional architect of the USA Patriot Act, the sweeping anti-terrorism law that passed after the attacks in 2001 and gave broad new surveillance power to the federal government. He has been a fierce defender of his work.

So give Sensenbrenner credit. A dozen years later, the Wisconsin congressman is now leading an admirable fight to end abuses of the law by the National Security Agency and other government offices.

A bill he introduced last week along with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont would take some of the wind out of the NSA's data vacuum, increase transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and create an independent advocate to argue cases before the court on behalf of the public.

The legislation has bipartisan support in both house of Congress and also from an interesting array of strange bedfellows that includes both the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.

We urge Congress to give this legislation careful consideration; it heads in the right direction.

"We have to make a balance between security and civil liberties," Sensenbrenner said recently. "And the reason the intelligence community has gotten itself into such trouble is they apparently do not see why civil liberties have got to be protected."

In an interview last week with The Washington Post, Sensenbrenner said that if Congress had known what the NSA planned to do, the Patriot Act would not have passed — and he wouldn't have supported it.

"What the NSA has done, with the concurrence of both the Bush and Obama administrations, is completely forgotten about the guarantees of civil liberties that those of us who helped write the Patriot Act in 2001 and the reauthorization in 2005 and 2006 had written the law to prevent from happening," he said.

Discontent with the NSA has been building for months after revelations in June by former government contractor Edward Snowden. We now know that the NSA monitored the phone calls of the heads of state of U.S. allies for years, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and that the NSA sucked up tens of millions of calls in France, Spain and many other countries.

The agency appears to have improperly captured data from thousands of U.S. phone numbers and misrepresented its actions before the secret spy court. Just last week came the allegation that the agency also had tapped the fiber-optic cables that connected Google's and Yahoo's overseas servers and sucked out huge amounts of data.

"We do not provide any government, including the U.S. government, with access to our systems," David Drummond, Google' chief legal officer, said in a statement after that story broke. "We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform."

And it's not clear that such activity was all that helpful. The NSA and its supporters says that it is, but when pressed at a recent Senate hearing, Gen. Keith Alexander, the agency's director, testified that only a handful of "attacks thwarted" had any connection to the United States.

Stopping any terror plot saves lives. Preventing terrorism has to be a top priority for the federal government, and to do that the U.S. needs a robust intelligence network. Intelligence failures were part of the reason the government was unable to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

But does the NSA really need to vacuum up tens of millions of phone calls, especially if those phones belong to U.S. citizens? We doubt it. And we also doubt there would be such a groundswell to rein in the NSA but for the disclosures by Snowden, who now is in exile in Russia. Time will whether Snowden is really more hero than traitor, but his actions have led to an overdue national conversation on intelligence and privacy.

The Sensenbrenner/Leahy legislation would put a stop to the bulk collection of telephone records and force the NSA to only go after foreign suspects who are targets of terror investigations. It requires the government to filter for and throw out information about Americans that is collected by accident. It creates a public advocate to promote privacy interests before the FISA court and makes the court's work more transparent.

The Obama administration has argued in the past that bulk data collection is permitted by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Not so, says Sensenbrenner, but the new legislation would make certain of that. The bill also would force the government to get a court order to search for the communications of Americans in data that is scooped up abroad.

Sensenbrenner's bill is in stark contrast to one approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. That bill, championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee chairwoman, would bless the NSA's domestic spying while offering the fig leaf of stronger privacy protections for Americans. No thanks.

America needs a strong intelligence system, but it doesn't need to know that Angela Merkel just ordered solyankafor dinner. And it should not be randomly invading the privacy of millions of U.S. citizens.

Protect the country. Protect privacy. We can do both.

View online, here.