San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today filed a brief on behalf of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author of the original USA PATRIOT Act, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the National Security Agency (NSA). In the brief, Sensenbrenner argues that Congress never intended the Patriot Act to permit the NSA's collection of the records of every telephone call made to, from and within the United States. Sensenbrenner urges the court to deny the NSA's motion to dismiss and grant the ACLU's motion for a preliminary injunction, which would halt the program until the case is decided.
In early June, The Guardian published a classified document leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden detailing how the agency is vacuuming up call data from the Verizon phone network under the auspices of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Within days, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to defend Americans' rights to privacy, due process, and free speech. Meanwhile, a coalition of legislators—led by Sensenbrenner, who served as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when the Patriot Act passed—openly criticized the agency's practices as far exceeding the surveillance authority granted by Congress.
"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," said Sensenbrenner, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee during the Patriot Act debates. "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."
In July, EFF filed a separate lawsuit against the NSA on behalf of 18 diverse organizations, including gun advocates, environmentalists and churches, arguing that Section 215 violates the First Amendment right to association. Today's brief in the ACLU case is another prong in EFF's robust strategy to end the collection of millions of innocent Americans' telecommunications data.
"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."
For the full amicus brief:
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05)