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Patriot Act author to NSA: Rein it in

A legal brief filed on behalf of the author of the original USA Patriot Act challenges the National Security Agency’s interpretation that the law allows vast spying authority, contending that it never was intended to allow the collection of records of telephone calls of all Americans.

The amicus brief filed on behalf of Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., was filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation of San Francisco.

It was submitted in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of New York and others against James Clapper, chief of national intelligence for President Obama, NSA director Keith Alexander, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and others.

It explains that Sensenbrenner has represented Wisconson’s 5th Congressional District since 1978, and he’s been on the House Judiciary Committee for years.

“Most pertinent to the above-captioned action, Rep. Sensenbrenner was the author of the USA Patriot Act. Rep. Sensenbrenner was chairman of the judiciary committee when the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Five days later, he received a first draft of the USA Patriot Act from the Justice Department. Firmly believing that that original draft went too far, he asked then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert for time to redraft the legislation. Following numerous meetings and negotiations with the White House, the FBI and the intelligence community, Rep. Sensenbrenner authored a revised version … that was ultimately the version adopted as law.”

The EFF explains Sensenbrenner argues that Patriot Act never was intended by Congress “to permit the NSA’s collection of the records of every telephone call made to, from and within the United States.

He’s urging the court the grant the ACLU’s motion for a preliminary injunction, which would halt the program until the lawsuits are concluded.

The fight erupted after The Guardian published a classified document in June leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who now is residing in Russia.

The report detailed how the NSA is vacuuming up “call data from the Verizon phone network under the auspices of Section215 of the Patriot Act.”

The lawsuit seeks to defend “Americans’ rights to privacy, due process, and free speech.”

In a statement to the EFF, Sensenbrenner said, “I stand by the Patriot Act and support the specific targeting of terrorists by our government, but the proper balance has not been struck between civil rights and American security.”

He continued, “A large, intrusive government – however benevolent it claims to be – is not immune from the simple truth that centralized power threatens liberty. Americans are increasingly wary that Washington is violating the privacy rights guaranteed to us by the Fourth Amendment.”

The EFF noted that in July it filed an additional lawsuit against the NSA on behalf of 18 different groups ranging from environmentalists to churches. It argues that Section 215 violates constitution rights to freedom of association.

“Congress did not grant intelligence agencies unbounded record-collecting authority,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney David Greene said. “The law was crafted to allow the NSA to obtain only records that were relevant to ‘an authorized investigation.’ The NSA admits that the vast majority of the records it collects bear no relation to terrorism. The program’s limitless scope vastly exceeds what Congress intended.”