The Corner

Sensenbrenner: NSA Surveillance Is Abuse of Patriot Act

Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, the lead author of the original 2002 Patriot Act, is crying foul over the Obama administration’s handling of the National Security Agency’s privacy violations.

As I noted in today’s column, more and more conservatives are raising questions about the NSA’s surveillance procedures. Sensenbrenner specifically zeroes in on the Obama administration’s previously secret interpretation of the Patriot Act that it finally released after much delay on August 9. In it, government lawyers justified the NSA’s bulk collection of every American’s phone records. Sensenbrenner, who chairs Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security says the administration’s reasoning is being used to justify a gross invasion of privacy.

As Sensenbrenner explains it in an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times:

Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the collection of certain business records — in this case, phone records — when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records are relevant to an authorized investigation into international terrorism. The key legal term is “relevance.”

Under this relevance standard, the administration has collected the details of every call made by every American, even though the overwhelming majority of these calls have nothing to do with terrorism.

Indeed, Sensenbrenner says the administration’s own memo acknowledges that “its interpretation of the statute is at odds with the plain meaning of ‘relevance.’” It argues there is a “‘particularized legal meaning’ of relevance, but it ultimately concedes that it fails to meet this standard as well.” The government memo falls back on the argument that “all of our phone records are broadly relevant because potential connections between the individual data points are of value. This is where it relies on the tired metaphor of the needle in the haystack, arguing that it needs the haystack to find the terrorism needle.” But, in reality, the government has been collecting the haystack without any knowledge that there is a needle inside it.

Sensenbrenner concedes that the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court didn’t stop the NSA’s “relevance” standard, but says “no public court has ever upheld document collection that is remotely close to the dragnet at issue. . . . The administration therefore admits that its bulk collection is unprecedented.”

As for Congress, Sensenbrenner is incensed that “the administration actually goes further and reasons that Congress essentially sanctioned the abuse of the Patriot Act by failing to stop the administration from abusing it.” Sensenbrenner ends his op-ed by observing that he and the vast majority of Congress had no idea the phone calls of Americans were being scooped up in bulk. “The suggestion that the administration can violate the law because Congress failed to object is outrageous. But let them be on notice: I am objecting right now.”

Most Popular

PC Culture

When PC Comes Back to Bite You

Political correctness run amok is a popular topic on the right these days. Indeed, the conservative bookshelf is chock full of best-sellers devoted to the topic. Subject matters vary. One may focus on the hypocrisy of campus speech codes, another on the revisionist attempt to indict our founding fathers, yet ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Charles Krauthammer, R.I.P.

It’s not often that the loss of an opinion writer can be said to be a loss for the country, but that is true of Charles Krauthammer, the Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist who died yesterday. In a fractured media environment where almost no one commands universal respect, where crudity of expression and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Time Stands by Misleading Cover Photo

Time magazine on Friday defended its decision to feature a photo of a crying toddler who was never separated from her mother on the cover of its July issue detailing family separations at the border. “The June 12 photograph of the 2-year-old Honduran girl became the most visible symbol of the ongoing ... Read More