While many members of Congress took the Veterans Day holiday as an opportunity to walk in a parade or speak at a veterans cemetery, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner was in Brussels, testifying before European Parliament about the Patriot Act.
Sensenbrenner, one of the chief authors of the Patriot Act, told the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs that Congress had extended broader powers to the National Security Agency and the executive branch more than a decade ago through the legislation — and the NSA had "abused" that trust.
"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 NSA has weakened, misconstrued and ignored the civil liberty protections we drafted into the law," Sensenbrenner testified.
The Wisconsin Republican, who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee when the Patriot Act was drafted in late 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, testified that the NSA had ignored restrictions "painstakingly crafted by lawmakers and assumed a plenary authority" that Congress never intended, nor imagined.
"Worse, the NSA has cloaked its operations behind such a thick cloud of secrecy that, even if the NSA promised reforms, we would lack the ability to verify them," Sensenbrenner said, according to a release from his office.
He said the recent string of NSA revelations — massive phone metadata collection, Internet user data collections and international spying on foreign leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel — had "surprised and appalled" him just as much as the American people.
Which is why Sensenbrenner is introducing the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring Act" — the USA FREEDOM ACT.
Sensenbrenner noted that the bill title actually copies part of the USA Patriot Act acronym (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001).
"The title intentionally echoes the Patriot Act because it does what the Patriot Act was meant to do — strike a proper balance between civil liberties and national security," Sensenbrenner said.
Sensenbrenner asked for international cooperation, as well as trust, which he called "integral" to stopping terrorism.
"I ask my friends here in the European Parliament to work pragmatically with the United States to continue balanced efforts to protect our nations," he testified. "Together we can rebuild trust while defending civil liberties and national security on both sides of the Atlantic."
He said the bill would end the NSA's bulk data collection programs, as well as spying on foreign leaders, such as Merkel, which President Barack Obama says he didn't know about.
"If you'll forgive an old Republican one partisan quip," Sensenbrenner said, "there is no better argument for reform than when surveillance abuses occur unbeknownst to the one man authorized to allow them."
The bill also beefs up reporting, oversight and transparency at the NSA.
"As the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, 'Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,'" Sensenbrenner told the committee.