The author of the Patriot Act said the top secret court order to collect the phone records of essentially every call made by millions of Verizon customers is an abuse of the landmark legislation.
“As the author of the Patriot Act, I am extremely troubled by the FBI’s interpretation of this legislation. While I believe the Patriot Act appropriately balanced national security concerns and civil rights, I have always worried about potential abuses,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said this morning.
“The Bureau’s broad application for phone records was made under the so-called business records provision of the Act. I do not believe the broadly drafted FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act. Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.”
Sensenbrenner wrote Attorney General Eric Holder today, saying “these reports are deeply concerning and raise questions about whether our constitutional rights are secure.”
The congressman said the FBI applied for the phone records under section 215 of the act, which requires the government to meet certain investigative criteria to prove to the court the need to obtain business records.
“I insisted upon sunsetting this provision in order to ensure Congress had an opportunity to reassess the impact the provision had on civil liberties,” Sensenbrenner wrote. “I also closely monitored and relied on testimony from the Administration about how the Act was being interpreted to ensure that abuses had not occurred.”
He pointed to 2011 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in which members were assured by an acting assistant attorney general that the provision was being used sparingly, for driver’s license, hotel, car rental and leasing records.
“The Department’s testimony left the Committee with the impression that the Administration was using the business records provision sparingly and for specific materials,” Sensenbrenner continued. “The recently released FISA order, however, could not have been drafted more broadly.”‘
“I do not believe the released FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act. How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation as required by the Act?”
Sensenbrenner asked Holder to respond to a series of questions about why the order was so broad and how his department interprets Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
At a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing this morning, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) tried asking Holder about the Verizon records, but Holder brushed off the question, saying the hearing wasn’t the appropriate forum in which to discuss the order.