The House Republican who became the legislative face of the Patriot Act after the 9/11 terrorist attacks was in Europe today telling the EU parliament that they need to rebuild trust and cooperation after the National Security Agency leaks that angered foreign governments.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) testified before the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs at an inquiry hearing on the mass surveillance of EU citizens.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the time of the attacks, Sensenbrenner told the EU parliamentarians that “Congress knew the country needed new tools and broader authorities to combat those who meant to harm us, but we never intended to allow the National Security Agency to peer indiscriminately into the lives of innocent people all over the world.”
Sensenbrenner noted that he “worked under strict time constraints” to forge the Patriot Act and get it passed.
“I firmly believe the Patriot Act saved lives by strengthening the ability of intelligence agencies to track and stop potential terrorists, but in the past few years, the National Security Agency has weakened, misconstrued and ignored the civil liberty protections we drafted into the law,” he said, adding that the NSA “ignored restrictions painstakingly crafted by lawmakers and assumed a plenary authority we never imagined.”
“Worse, the NSA has cloaked its operations behind such a thick cloud of secrecy that, even if the NSA promised reforms, we would lack the ability to verify them.”
Sensenbrenner said the “constant stream of disclosures about US surveillance since June has surprised and appalled me as much as it has the American public and our international allies.”
He touted the USA FREEDOM Act that he introduced along with Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “to curtail surveillance abuses and restore trust in the US intelligence community.”
The legislation has passed 100 co-sponsors and reaped diverse endorsements ranging from the ACLU to the NRA. He called the bill “the strongest message we can send that innocent people should not be treated as terrorists, that our private lives should be left private, and that the rule of law is neither flexible nor permissive.”
The congressman told the EU that lawmakers here have “limited authority to stop the administration from spying on foreign leaders.” The program to spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel was instituted by an executive order.
Sensenbrenner said “international cooperation is crucial to stopping terrorism, but trust is also integral.”
“I ask my friends in the European Parliament to work pragmatically with the United States to continue balanced efforts to protect our nations,” he said. “Together we can rebuild trust while defending civil liberties and national security on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Also at the EU hearing, Microsoft, Google and Facebook managers denied giving the NSA or any government in the world direct or unfettered access to their servers.
“I hope that we have learned our lesson and that oversight will be a lot more vigorous,” Sensenbrenner said.