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Patriot Act author wants your help keeping NSA out of Patriot Act

He didn’t want your help in 2001. But he’s asking for it now.


Kevin Collier


It’s not often that a congressman behind one of the most controversial bills in decades lets you go online and try to undo it, years later.

But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who authored the Patriot Act in 2001—which provided the National Security Agency’s legal justification to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk without a warrant, or their knowledge—is doing just that.

His bill to reign in the NSA, the bombastically-named USA Freedom Act, is now available for crowdsourced markup. 

Sensenbrenner occupies a unique, ironic place in history. His Patriot Act was enormously popular in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, receiving only a single negative vote one it got to the Senate. But that was a different time, a dozen years before an NSA contractor named Edward Snowden would grow outraged at the breadth of the agency’s spy practices and leak classified agency documents, en masse, to a handful of journalists, which in turn inspired strong disapproval from American citizens. Now, Sensenbrenner stands poised to be the author of the first bill to temper the NSA that could actually pass the House.

An earlier amendment bill to end that program, by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) came within twelve votes of passing the House. Sensenbrenner’s bill, which Amash supports, already has enough support from representatives who regret voting against Amash’s to pass the House.

But the USA Freedom Act isn’t finalized yet, and that’s where you come in. 

You can amble to over to Madison, a site designed by the nonprofit OpenGov to let anyone who signs up add comments to any bill that any member of congress deems worth posting. Sensenbrenner’s staff posted the USA Freedom Act up there Tuesday, and OpenGov has already peppered it with footnotes, like justifications for certain wording based on Senate Committee hearings.

Sensenbrenner’s bill already has a wide range of support, ranging from Internet freedom advocacy organizations like the EFF and Electronic Privacy Information Center to lobbyists with decidedly different aims, like the National Rifle Association.

Photo by Leader Nancy Pelosi/Flickr

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