A friend sent me Sen. Leahy’s speech on his agenda for the upcoming Congress. I don’t agree with all of it, but it looks like it’s mostly positive. He wants to strengthen oversight of law enforcement agencies, strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, and defend the judicial independence. Here’s what he had to say on NSA spying:
For years, this Administration had hidden the “President’s program” of warrantless wiretapping of Americans. We are now beginning to learn that it was not just one program but many that have been hidden from Congress. We all support monitoring the communications of suspected terrorists. Doing that is basic to thwarting terrorism. It is essential, and it is permitted under existing law. It is also essential that when that monitoring impinges upon the rights of Americans, it needs to be done lawfully and with adequate checks and balances to prevent abuses. Initially the Administration stonewalled our inquiries and claimed unilateral power and a monopoly on deciding what needs to be done and how to do it. As we pressed for answers, their responses turned into a demand for sweeping legal authority without any independent judgment by Congress, or any meaningful answers about what they have been doing.
We came together in the days after 9/11. We worked together to provide new authority the Administration said it needed. But after White House unilateralism set in, they have claimed for themselves broad authority to violate the law and secretly eavesdrop on American phone and computer communications, without proper congressional or judicial review. That is a recipe for abuse. The reason we have the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act–or FISA–in the first place is because of a period of earlier abuses of Americans’ rights and privacy.
With meaningful oversight and cooperation from this Administration we can achieve the right balance. We all have the same goal–protecting our country and its citizens. We have made more than a dozen changes to FISA since 9/11. If FISA needs more changes, then we should work together to achieve that in a responsible way, once Congress has a basis in knowledge that justifies further changes.
This sounds good, although I wouldn’t be shocked if Leahy caves to the administration the way Specter did. And Leahy mentioned patent reform:
Reforming our patent system will also be an enormous, but critically important, project in the new Congress. Our Constitution enshrined patent rights for a reason: “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.” The spirit of American innovation has made the United States the world’s leader in intellectual property. Yet the expressions of American innovation–in the form of patented goods and processes–are only as good as the system that fosters and protects innovation. Our patent system was created in another century, and we need to update it. It must serve the 21st Century industries that have made us the envy of the world, just as it well served the smokestack industries of an earlier era.
That obviously sounds good in theory, but it will be interesting to see the details.
I would be interested in knowing Jim Harper’s evaluation of Leahy’s privacy agenda.
Frankly, the best thing about having Leahy chair the Judiciary Committee is that he won’t be afraid to criticize the president. The policies that come out of the sausage-grinder may or may not be any good, but at least the Congress will no longer be a rubber stamp for the White House.