In a speech at Georgetown University Law Center, Leahy (D-Vt.) said the government “has not made its case” that the ability to collect Americans’ phone records en masse under the PATRIOT Act is “an effective counterterrorism tool, especially in light of the intrusion on Americans’ privacy rights.” [...]While Leahy has tremendous authority as Judiciary chair over the NSA's activities, he doesn't have full authority. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, unfortunately, shares it in her position as chair of the Intelligence Committee. While she has announced a series of hearings in her committee on the NSA this fall, Feinstein has steadfastly defended the NSA activities even through all the revelations of the Snowden leaks. Had Feinstein actually allowed her committee to do the kind of oversight that it is tasked with, maybe there'd have been a lot less for Snowden to leak.
Leahy is set to play a critical role in shaping the reform debate. He previewed his approach in the Georgetown speech, saying Congress must “recalibrate” government surveillance while finding “a way we can discuss publicly the outer bounds” of the NSA’s programs.
The senator affirmed his interest in restricting Section 215 under the PATRIOT Act, specifically to prohibit “bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.” He introduced a bill this summer to that effect, and the measure currently has 10 co-sponsors, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). [...]
Leahy also called for a “hard look at the existing oversight structure and what we are asking of the judges appointed to the FISA Court.” Those judges, he explained, have taken on a “regulatory role not envisioned in the original version” of the law. And the court, he said, hamstrung by the NSA’s misunderstanding of its own programs or the agency’s misleading statements, hasn’t always been able to conduct meaningful oversight.
The impetus, however, is with the reformers. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the original author of the PATRIOT Act who is working with Leahy on legislation to rein in the agency.