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US Congressman wants to shackle NSA spying

Maybe it's time we put our scepticism aside for a second and considered that maybe not all politicians are liars and charlatans. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the original authors of the US' Patriot Act, has called for the NSA's ability to survey its own citizens to be severely curtailed and has even put forward a bill to the House of Representatives to lock it down with legislation.

This is rather ironic in reality, as Sensenbrenner was one of the key components in George W. Bush's administration, for helping push forward the idea of giving intelligence agencies more powers or surveillance, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. However, he now believes that those powers have been abused and he wants to “put their metadata program out of business.”

The bill he's putting forward, known as the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-Collection and Online Monitoring Act (shorthand version: USA Freedom Act), has been seen by The Guardian newspaper, which says it brings together many other efforts by similarly minded politicians to put an end to NSA snooping.

While the bill does focus on restricting NSA data collection to known terrorist suspects and removes a loophole that could allow the NSA to survey Americans if they happen to be in conversation with someone of a foreign nation, perhaps the most significant change being put forward, is to government secrecy. The USA Freedom Act would make it so that the government can no longer enact “secret laws,” and would give legal rights to consumers and corporations to disclose information they had been forced to share with the government or its agencies.

Specifically, it would limit the Patriot Act, to entirely prevent the collection of business phone call metadata, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would see its language changed so that it wouldn't be possible to blanket collect information and instead would require justification for all phone call surveillance.


If this passes, it will be big news for companies like Facebook, Yahoo, Google and many others, who according to similarly legally embattled (and somewhat hero) Lavabit founder, Ladar Levison have been fighting the government to disclose information on surveillance and data sharing for sometime, but have been unable to do so because of a gag order.

While the aims of the bill are lofty and opposition is great, Sensenbrenner believes that now is the time to reel in the NSA's power: “Opinions have hardened with the revelations over the summer, particularly the inspector general's report that there were thousands of violations of regulations, and the disclosure that NSA employees were spying on their spouses or significant others, which was very chilling,” he said in an interview.

Opposition to the bill has proposed that instead of blocking data collection, the NSA should become more transparent in its data gathering. Sensenbrenner believes this is simply a “fig leaf” approach to the problem and has even used it as an opportunity to question the Intelligence Committee's commitment to monitoring and managing the NSA's reach.

The Freedom Act also uses efficiency to criticise the actions of the NSA, calling on statistics recently outed by Obama's director of national intelligence, John Clapper, who said that the NSA had mislead the government over how effective the data gathering had been. Instead of previously cited figures of over 40 terrorist plots stopped because of the snooping, in-fact,it was closer to one or two – despite the cost of untold billions of dollars in surveillance.

“The haystack approach missed the Boston marathon bombing, and that was after the Russians told us the Tsarnaev brothers were bad guys,” added Sensenbrenner.

KitGuru Says: It's great to see this sort of pro-privacy support in parliament over there. My god do I wish I felt anywhere near as represented by a single British politician. 

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