Patriot Act author pushes legislation to limit NSA

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the original author of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, plans to introduce legislation next week to curb the National Security Agency's surveillance powers.

Ben Miller, a spokesman for Sensenbrenner, said there will be about 60 House co-sponsors for the bill, titled the USA Freedom Act. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) plans to introduce companion legislation in the upper chamber simultaneously, Miller said.

The legislation would tighten Section 215 of the Patriot Act to end the NSA's bulk collection of records on all U.S. phone calls. The fact that the NSA is collecting records such as phone numbers, call times and call durations on all U.S. phone calls was revealed earlier this year by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

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Sensenbrenner has expressed outrage that the NSA is using the Patriot Act to collect records on millions of Americans not suspected of any wrongdoing. 

"This is something that Congress would have never authorized," he said in a speech at the Cato Institute earlier this month. "And since the administration has assumed this authority, Congress should not hesitate to stop it and stop it quickly."

Under the USA Freedom Act, the NSA would be able to collect the records only if they are relevant to terrorism and are connected to an agent of a foreign power. The legislation would apply the same restriction to "national security letters" to prevent the government from using that power to continue the bulk collection. 

The bill would also strengthen prohibitions against targeting the communications of Americans and requires the government to more aggressively delete information accidentally collected on Americans. 

The legislation would create a special advocate's office tasked with arguing in favor of stronger privacy protections before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Currently, the court only hears arguments from government attorneys in favor of surveillance. The advocate would be able to appeal decisions and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board would be given subpoena power to investigate issues related to privacy and national security. 

The bill would also require the attorney general to disclose significant court decisions related to an interpretation of law. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook would be able to reveal more statistics about the information they turn over to the government.

The USA Freedom Act is expected to face fierce opposition from the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who argue that bulk collection is critical for thwarting terrorist attacks. 

"I will do everything I can to prevent this [phone data] program from being canceled," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said at a hearing earlier this month.