Patriot Act author introduces bill to rein in US spies

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The author of the Patriot Act introduced a new bill to rein in the U.S. intelligence community’s use of electronic surveillance Tuesday.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy introduced the USA FREEDOM Act Tuesday to the House and the Senate, which, according to the bill’s text, would “reform the authorities of the Federal Government to require the production of certain business records, conduct electronic surveillance, use pen registers and trap and trace devices.”

The bill — also called the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet Collection, and Online Monitoring Act — would also reform the authorities of the federal government to require “other forms of information gathering for foreign intelligence, counterterrorism, and criminal purposes, and for other

The Senate version of the USA FREEDOM Act has 16 cosponsors from senators on both sides of the aisle; the House version has the bipartisan sponsorship of over 70 members.

Leahy and Sensenbrenner, who is credited as the author of the Patriot Act, previously announced in early October their intention to reform how the U.S. intelligence community collects and uses information gathered for foreign intelligence and counterrorism purposes.

“Let us be clear: We do not underestimate the threats that our country faces, and we agree that Congress must equip the intelligence community with the necessary and appropriate tools to keep us safe,” said Leahy and Sensenbrenner in an op-ed in Politico on Tuesday.

“But Congress did not enact FISA and the PATRIOT Act to give the government boundless surveillance powers that could sweep in the data of countless innocent Americans,” said Sensenbrenner and Leahy.

“If all of our phone records are relevant to counterterrorism investigations, what else could be?,” they said.

Sensenbrenner, during a speech to a Washington audience earlier this month, also emphasized the need for increased transparency in the federal government — a measure that was supposed to be a hallmark of the Obama administration.

While government and corporate electronic surveillance has been an issue of growing concern over the past several years, the revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about the U.S. and U.K. government’s surveillance programs placed the issue front and center on the international stage.

Recent revelations about the NSA’s monitoring of 35 foreign leaders, reportedly authorized by the National Security Council, have increased tensions between the U.S. and Germany.

Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel blasted President Obama over a formerly secret document that revealed the NSA had been monitoring her mobile phone.

Further reports revealed that her communications had been targeted by the U.S. signals intelligence agency for over 10 years.

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