By Conor Friedersdorf
This summer, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, an author and longtime champion of the Patriot Act, emerged as one of the most concerned voices arguing that the law is being used to violate the rights of Americans. A letter the Wisconsin Republican sent to Attorney General Eric Holder singles out Section 215, the law’s “business records” provision. “As the author of the Patriot Act,” he wrote, “I am extremely disturbed by what appears to be an overbroad interpretation.” He was referring to Edward Snowden’s revelation that Team Obama collects data on the phone calls of almost all Americans.
Sensenbrenner began to question whether our constitutional rights are secure. “I do not believe the released FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act,” he wrote. “How could the phone records of so many Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation?” His newfound skepticism came as a pleasant surprise to critics of the surveillance state. Two years ago, when key provisions of the Patriot Act were scheduled to sunset, Sensenbrenner proudly and unapologetically lobbied for the re-authorization of the law he helped write. Congress ought to make provisions including Section 215 permanent, he argued back then. “Section 215 of the Act allows the FISA Court to issue