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Co-Sponsor Leahy Works To Renew USA Freedom Act Before Legislation Sunsets

Sen. Patrick Leahy walks with reporters around him.
Patrick Semansky
Associated Press
Sen. Patrick Leahy, pictured here on Capitol Hill on Oct. 22, is one of the co-sponsors of legislation to reauthorize the USA Freedom Act which is set to sunset at the end of the year.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on the USA Freedom Act, a bipartisan law passed in 2015 that will sunset at the end of this year if Congress does not renew it. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and the senior member of the committee, is a co-sponsor on the 2019 version of the act along with conservative Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

"Sen. Lee and I are good friends but we're poles apart politically, and people know that," Leahy told Vermont Edition. "But ... we both are respected for our knowledge of the law and for our background as prosecutors, and I think most Democrats and most Republicans were saying if [the] two of us could agree on it, we've got something there."

The USA Freedom Act of 2015 prohibited the wholesale collection of telecommunication records by the government as part of anti-terrorism programs. Those surveillance programs were part of the USA Patriot Act, which was put in place shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The restrictions enacted in 2015 will be eliminated and the original language of the Patriot Act will be restored if Congress fails to renew the USA Freedom Act by the end of December.

Leahy said it's hard to say if the legislation will be renewed "because the White House is so distracted by impeachment." However, Leahy said, having the recent hearings where people from both parties noted similar concerns is "a wake up call to everybody," including the Trump administration and the intelligence community.

Leahy said a renewal of the 2015 law will ensure that the rights of law-abiding Americans are protected from unwarranted government surveillance, as well as help make anti-terrorism programs more effective.

"If it's done, we're going to have something that's targeted really against potential terrorists — not something that's like a vacuum cleaner where you have no idea what you've got," Leahy said.

Click the play button above to hear more from the Vermont Edition interview with Leahy, including his thoughts on potential impeachment.

Broadcast on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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