The Pacific Northwest spawns gadfly lawmakers who don’t shape-shift to political currents. Sens. Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska were the only U.S. senators to vote against the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the use of force against North Vietnam. In the mid-1970s, Idaho Sen. Frank Church shepherded a select committee to investigate extralegal intelligence activities, including efforts to assassinate foreign leaders and the “HTLINGUAL” program that opened U.S. mail.
It’s prudent to question authority, particularly when authority crosses the limits.
Fast forward to the digital age, where evolving technology meets immutable human nature. Today, it’s a replay of harmonizing civil liberties and the rule of law with the catchall of national security.
On Tuesday, Rep. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., introduced the USA Freedom Act to attempt to halt the ends-justify-the-means MO of the National Security Agency.
Sensenbrenner, one of the original authors of the 2001 Patriot Act, has witnessed enough un-patriotic abuses of the post-9/11 law that he’s resolved to mend the holes.
A companion bill sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, also will be introduced this week.
Freshman Rep. Suzan DelBene, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, was joined by Everett Rep. Rick Larsen in co-sponsoring the bill.
“The USA Freedom Act includes reforms that ensure vigorous oversight, transparency and accountability of our nation’s surveillance programs. It strikes the right balance between protecting our privacy and national security,” DelBene said in a statement.
Balance is in the eye of the spy (or the spied upon), and the USA Freedom Act may be too sweeping to survive in one piece. Better to make a comprehensive push, recognizing that some features will fall away during congressional horse trading.
One component that needs to survive is elimination of the bulk collection of data, Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The Freedom Act demands that “tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities and pertain to (1) a foreign power or agent of a foreign power.” Combined with giving the heave-ho to information about Americans “accidentally” collected through PRISM, the Goldfinger-sounding data-mining initiative, these Freedom Act sections need to stay in place.
There is a sufficient groundswell to make it so, with a July rein-‘em-in amendment sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich, failing by just 12 votes.
The USA Freedom Act represents a long-delayed fix to America’s national security overreach. The Northwest delegation should embrace it.