Patriot Act Sponsor James Sensenbrenner — Progressive Champion?

James-SensenbrennerYou remember James Sensenbrenner, don’t you? A Republican from Wisconsin, he introduced the Patriot Act in the House of Representatives 42 days after 9/11. Among his other “accomplishments” was authoring the Real ID Act in 2005 and acting as a general thorn in the side to any legislation that could be interpreted in as at all humane and progressive. Turns out, even Sensenbrenner has his limits.

In a New York Times article titled Momentum Builds Against N.S.A. Surveillance Jonathan Weisman reports on the beginnings of a congressional change of heart.

The rapidly shifting politics were reflected clearly in the House on Wednesday, when a plan to defund the National Security Agency’s telephone data collection program fell just seven votes short of passage. Now, after initially signaling that they were comfortable with the scope of the N.S.A.’s collection of Americans’ phone and Internet activities, but not their content, revealed last month by Edward J. Snowden, lawmakers are showing an increasing willingness to use legislation to curb those actions.

As for Sensenbrenner, he and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)

… have begun work on legislation in the House Judiciary Committee to significantly rein in N.S.A. telephone surveillance. … that would restrict phone surveillance to only those named as targets of a federal terrorism investigation [and] make significant changes to the secret court that oversees such programs and give businesses like Microsoft and Google permission to reveal their dealings before that court.

Sensenbrenner claimed that he never intended “to allow the wholesale vacuuming up of domestic phone records, nor did his legislation envision that data dragnets would go beyond specific targets of terrorism investigations.”

“The time has come to stop it, and the way we stop it is to approve this amendment,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. … “I would just hope the Intelligence Committees will not stick their heads in the sand on this,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

Civil liberties champions can emerge from the unlikeliest of places. Guess Sensenbrenner didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.