There aren’t many issues in which Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce is in agreement with our two Democratic senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. There are likely fewer still where the National Rifle Association and former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr are on the same side as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
A bill to restrain the National Security Agency in the collection of phone data and other information of American citizens has attracted just that disparate group of supporters. Udall and Heinrich are among 19 sponsors in the Senate, and Pearce is an original co-sponsor in the House. Other Senate sponsors include Mike Lee, who joined with Ted Cruz to orchestrate the recent government shutdown, and Elizabeth Warren, the new rising star of the progressive movement.
The USA FREEDOM Act was introduced last week by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and House Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., two of the primary authors of the USA PATRIOT Act, passed in the panicked days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
They are now looking to undo some of the damage done in that bill.
“The bill has helped keep Americans safe by ensuring information is shared among those responsible for defending our country and by enhancing the tools the intelligence community needs to identify and track terrorists,” Sensenbrenner said in a prepared statement. “But somewhere along the way, the balance between security and privacy was
lost. It’s now time for the judiciary committees to again come together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the law is properly interpreted, past abuses are not repeated and American liberties are protected.”
The bill introduced last week would end the mass collection of phone data. It would require that data collected be “relevant and material to an authorized investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”
It requires a court order to search for the communications of Americans in data collected without individualized warrants and creates the Office of the Special Advocate to provide some degree of balance in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts.
The FISA courts have too often been a rubber stamp for surveillance agencies, rejecting just two of 8,591 applications received between 2008 and 2012, according to a report by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The new office would be staffed with attorneys with the proper clearance to view classified information and will serve as a needed counterbalance to attorneys arguing for the surveillance agencies.