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Let's Thank Patriot Act Author Jim Sensenbrenner for Joining the Fight Against the Surveillance State

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner
Many conservatives, constitutionalists and liberty movement observers thought the Patriot Act was a bad idea and unconstitutional when it was passed in 2001, and that if the Supreme Court allowed it to stand it was going to quickly lead to the erosion of liberty.

The author of the original Patriot Act, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin (ACU lifetime rating 86.59%), took a good bit of heat from limited government constitutional conservatives for the original bill, and for his spirited advocacy of the expansion and extensions of the Patriot Act Congress passed in 2006 and 2011.

However, in the wake of the revelations of the NSA abusing its authority Congressman Sensenbrenner has now come to see things differently.

In a truly powerful interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish, Jim Sensenbrenner made an incisive case that “what the NSA has done is misplace both Congress' trust and the public's trust. And they are an agency out of control.”

Coming from the author of the Patriot Act this is truly a stunning, and welcome, confirmation that the liberty and constitutional conservative movements are gaining ground in this important debate.

Congressman Sensenbrenner was especially tough on the NSA’s interpretation of the word “relevant” in his interview with NPR, particularly in the context of FISA court rulings over the years that have come to consider whole databases (like the data of all Verizon customers) as essentially fair game.

What Jim Sensenbrenner told NPR was, “What Congress intended and what I intended is that the target had to be a foreign national and not a U.S. person. He would be targeted, and then they would find out who that person was calling, both in the United States and elsewhere, rather than grabbing all of the phone information and working backwards to the target. The relevant standard was intended to limit what NSA could do. They [the NSA] took the position that it expanded it. And that tips the commonsense definition of relevance on its head.”

Congressman Sensenbrenner was equally tough in pushing back against those, such as New York’s Representative Peter King, who are inclined to equate acceptance of the surveillance state with patriotism.

In response to a clip of King saying to FOX News Sunday that the NSA has a “99.99 percent batting average” on privacy and that “this whole tone of snooping and spying that we use, I think it's horrible. It's really a distortion and a smear and a slander of good, patriotic Americans” Sensenbrenner didn’t blink.

“I don't think 99.99 percent is good enough when you have a court ruling a program unconstitutional in violating the Fourth Amendment and that program had been going on for many months and the NSA violating court orders,” said Congressman Sensenbrenner. “It's the court that is supposed to protect the constitutional rights of Americans. I think that James Madison did a pretty good job when he put together the Bill of Rights. I view the Bill of Rights as a sacred document and one of the documents that makes America so much more different than any other country in the history of the world.”

That’s powerful stuff, and we wish we heard more of it from Republicans in Congress, who ought to be keeping the Constitution and the liberties of their fellow Americans uppermost in their minds, but all too often appear to have become captives of the bureaucrats who are building the surveillance state under their very noses.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner made another important point in his interview with NPR that we want to pass along: “I think the civil libertarians who had complained about the Patriot Act all along now realize that if there are to be major changes in the Patriot Act and in NSA operations, and that will include a change in the FISA law and a change in how the FISA court operates, they are going to have to broaden their base with others of us who are concerned about the abuses that have taken place.”

That is wise counsel.

Constitutional conservatives need every ally we can find if we are to reestablish respect for the Constitution in the federal bureaucracy and stop the growth of the surveillance state. Jim Sensenbrenner is a powerful ally who should be welcomed to the fight.

To call Congressman Sensenbrenner’s office to thank him for his commitment to putting the NSA back inside strict constitutional limits, you can reach his Brookfield, WI office at (262) 784-1111 or his Washington, DC office at (202) 225-5101 or call the Capitol Switchboard at 1-866-220-0044 and ask to be connected to Congressman Sensenbrenner’s office.

Click here to listen to or read the transcript of Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner’s interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish.

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Sensenbrenner Needs to Go

Sensenbrenner is one of the many in Congress who need to go. He has been there way too long, and it is way past time for him to leave. He got us into this mess; I doubt that he will be of much use getting us out. They all talk a lot, but few speak carefully or unequivocally. Wisconsin and the nation can do better than Sensenbrenner.