A Wisconsin Congressman says legislation aimed at curtailing the surveillance powers of the National Security Agency still contains many protections for Americans, even if the final product is not what he envisioned in the first place.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed the Freedom Act, legislation introduced by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) last fall in the wake of news that the NSA had been collecting massive amounts of information about Americans. The legislation stalled for months, but picked up steam again this spring and moved quickly towards passage. However, multiple amendments were made that prompted numerous privacy groups to withdraw their support, citing concerns that it did little to address the problems that resulted in the NSA surveillance in the first place.
Sensenbrenner was the author of the original Patriot Act and the Freedom Act. During a speech on the House floor Thursday, the Wisconsin Republican admitted that the he wished the latest bill did more, but urged members to continue to support its passage. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Today, we have the opportunity to make a powerful statement: Congress does not support bulk collection.”
Despite changes, Sensenbrenner says the bill will still help protect the privacy of American citizens and allow Congress to keep an eye on the NSA. “The bill requires that, in addition to existing restrictions, the government must use a Specific Selection Term as the basis for collecting foreign intelligence information. And maybe more importantly, after this bill becomes law, we will have critical transparency provisions to ensure that, if the government again violates our trust, Congress and the public will know about it.”
In short, Sensenbrenner argued, it turns the tables on the NSA and tells them “We are watching you.”
The measure passed on a 301-121 vote. It now heads to the U.S. Senate, where it faces an uncertain future. Leaders there have voiced concerns that too many privacy protections were removed by the House.