Rep. Jared Huffman joined an unusual coalition of House members from both parties and opposite ends of the political spectrum in backing a bill that would end the dragnet collection of Americans' telephone records.
"It's time to swing the pendulum back in the direction of protecting privacy and civil liberties," said Huffman, D-San Rafael, who represents the North Coast in Congress.
He's among the 87 co-sponsors — 44 Republicans and 43 Democrats — supporting the USA Freedom Act, introduced this week by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who authored the USA Patriot Act implemented 45 days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee, said the Patriot Act "helped keep Americans safe" by "enhancing the tools" needed to track terrorists.
"But somewhere along the way," he said in a press release this week, "the balance between security and privacy was lost."
Huffman, who joined Congress in January, said the nation "granted sweeping authority to the intelligence agencies" after 9/11 and now needs to make "intelligent changes" to the law.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, an eight-term House veteran, wrote a competing bill — the Intelligence Oversight and Accountability Act of 2013 — endorsed by all his fellow members of the House Intelligence Committee.
"Our government has a responsibility to both protect American lives and our citizens' civil liberties," Thompson said, adding that his bill would strengthen "Congress' aggressive oversight of our Intelligence Community."
Thompson's bill requires the attorney general to report to Congress certain orders and opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret panel that gives intelligence agencies the legal authority for electronic surveillance.
The attorney general currently has discretion over whether to share the court's decisions with Congress, and Thompson's bill makes such disclosures mandatory for decisions that include a denial or modification of a surveillance request or results in any change of the law that authorized the process.