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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

 1:16 PM 

Column: Sensenbrenner not giving up on NSA changes

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

WASHINGTON -- Some of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act expire on June 1, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner thinks he has a solution that will satisfy both federal intelligence officials and privacy advocates.

Congress, in the waning days of the 113th session, almost passed the update and partial rewrite of the law enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The House passed the USA Freedom Act authored by Sensenbrenner, but the Senate fell just two votes shy of taking up the companion version written by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., before adjourning in December.

Revelations that the National Security Agency was collecting telephone "metadata" from Americans' phone records in bulk leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden beginning in June of 2013 prompted calls to reign in the spy agency's surveillance powers. The NSA and other intelligence agencies relied on a broad interpretation of Section 213 of the Patriot Act for their power to sift through the timestamp information of Americans' phone calls. Sensenbrenner and Leahy worked on an update, the USA Freedom Act, that eventually won the support of the Obama administration, the intelligence community, the technology sector and privacy advocates.

After the Senate version couldn't overcome a filibuster in December, bill supporters worried their window had closed. The rise of ISIS over the summer and incidents of homegrown terrorism the radical Islamic group inspired in Europe bolstered the rationale that underpinned the Patriot Act in the first place. Many lawmakers have grown wary of any perceived relaxation of national security.

Sensenbrenner, Leahy and other key lawmakers are undaunted, however, and plan to reintroduce the USA Freedom Act again as soon as this month. But now they face an uphill battle even in the House, where Speaker John Boehner has shown no appetite for bringing it to the floor again. Many provisions of the Patriot Act have been made permanent, but three very controversial provisions, including Section 215, sunset June 1.

Some members of Congress who support reigning in the NSA and other intelligence agencies' capabilities believe just allowing those provisions to expire is the best path. However, as the deadline approaches, the NSA, CIA and other agencies likely will ratchet up their case for extending bulk data collection, roving wiretaps and the so-called "lone-wolf" provision.

Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, and Leahy think the USA Freedom Act addresses everyone's concerns and that ultimately Congress will have to consider it if leadership wants to prevent any expiration of those Patriot Act powers.

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


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