GOP lawmaker: Europe can help curb NSA

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) on Monday asked the European Parliament to work with the United States on finding a balance between liberty and security.

Sensenbrenner said this would require curbs to the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, which have provoked outrage in Europe.

"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 said in prepared remarks to the Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee.

"Together we can rebuild trust while defending civil liberties and national security on both sides of the Atlantic."

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Sensenbrenner was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when the Patriot Act was passed; the law broadly expanded U.S. intelligence activities in order to fight terrorism around the world. But Sensenbrenner has said revelations about the depth of NSA spying has convinced him the agency needs to be reined in.

"Congress knew the country needed new tools and broader authorities to combat those who meant to harm us, but we never intended to allow the National Security Agency to peer indiscriminately into the lives of innocent people all over the world," he said.

Sensenbrenner added that the NSA has weakened and misconstrued the civil liberty protections that members wrote into the bill. In doing so, he said, the NSA abused the trust of Congress and the American people.

"It ignored restrictions painstakingly crafted by lawmakers and assumed a plenary authority we never imagined," he said. "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."

The Obama administration has said President Obama was not aware of efforts to spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which Sensenbrenner said is reason enough to curtail NSA activities.

"While I agree that politics stop at the water's edge, if you'll forgive an old Republican one partisan quip, there is no better argument for reform than when surveillance abuses occur unbeknownst to the one man authorized to allow them," he said.

Sensenbrenner has proposed the USA Freedom Act, H.R. 3361, which would end the NSA's bulk data collection activities and would enhance congressional oversight of intelligence programs. His bill has 86 co-sponsors, including members of both parties.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has proposed a Senate version, which has 18 co-sponsors.

The full title of the bill is the Uniting and Strengthening America (USA) by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring (Freedom) Act. 

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