We've already pointed out that the key author of the Patriot Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, has spoken out against
the NSA's surveillance activities, saying that the law was actually written specifically to prevent
that kind of activity. Sensenbrenner, as the author of the Patriot Act, certainly isn't known for having a particularly strong focus on protecting civil liberties. However, he does seem quite perturbed at what's being done with the law associated with his name, which he insists is being abused. During today's Congressional hearings, Sensenbrenner made it clear that Congress will not renew the controversial Section 215
if the NSA doesn't correct its broad surveillance efforts:
Section 215 expires at the end of 2015. Unless you realize you've got a problem, that is not going to be renewed. There are not the votes in the House of Representatives to renew Section 215, and then you're gonna lose the business records access.... You have to change how you operate Section 215, otherwise in two and a half years you're not going to have it any more.”
The full video of Sensenbrenner
questioning Deputy Attorney General James Cole is worth watching:
Sensenbrenner clearly gets angry with Cole, as Cole tries to tap dance around the question, by pointing out that he's not at all happy with the idea that the intelligence community gets to determine what's "relevant" rather than the court. He notes that relevance was supposed to be a limitation
not something that the intelligence community gets to decide for itself. As the revelations have shown, under Section 215, the feds get to scoop up everything, as approved by the court, and then the intelligence agencies
get to determine what's "relevant" within that collection to take a closer look. Sensenbrenner is clearly outraged that it's not the court that determines relevance. Having the intelligence community get to decide for itself makes a mockery of the law.
Sensenbrenner: It appears to me that, according to this letter and the testimony of FBI Director Mueller, that "relevant" [is being interpreted as] an expansion of what could happen rather than a limitation... when relevant was not included in that statute. Doesn't that make a mockery of the legal standard, because you're trying to have it both ways?
Cole: I don't think we're trying to have it both ways...
Sensenbrenner: You sure are! Because you're saying have the court authorized to get the records of all the phone calls that are made to and from phones in the United States including people who have nothing to do with any kind of terrorist investigation. And then what you're saying is that "we'll decide" what to pick out of that mass of maybe a billion phone calls a day, rather than saying that 'this person is a target' why don't you get an authorization for only that person's telephone records?
Cole: Again, going to the analogy of the criminal context, we would never in a grand jury situation or a traditional criminal investigation even go to the court for the framework, or the setting of rules, or have sunsetting every 90 days of the authority, or...
Sensenbrenner: But, Mr. Cole, with all due respect, the letter that I got from the Department that you're the number two person in, says that you get the FISA Court order because there are "reasonable grounds to believe that the data is relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism" as Section 215 requires. Even though most of the records in the dataset are not associated with terrorist activity. You gobble up all of those records and then you turn around and say well we'll pick out maybe 300 phone numbers out of the billions of records that you have every day and you store for five years there. All the rest of this stuff is sitting in a warehouse and we found out from the IRS who knows who wants to have any kind of legal or illegal access to it. You are having it both ways.
Once again, when will the administration realize that they've clearly taken all of this way too far?