"It goes far, far beyond the Patriot Act," Sensenbrenner, who wrote that 2001 law, said in an interview. "If the Bush administration was (also) doing it, they shouldn't have. ... It doesn't make any difference how long it has been going on. It never should have happened. And since it has happened, it ought to stop."
Revelations about the surveillance program have drawn mixed reactions from both sides of the aisle. But Sensenbrenner said he believes there is a bipartisan consensus on the House judiciary committee that the surveillance program is a serious overreach.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Republican congressman from Menomonee Falls called the program "an over-broad interpretation of the (Patriot) Act," and said it raised "questions about whether our constitutional rights are secure."
The surveillance program also drew criticism from former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat who was the lone vote in the U.S. Senate against the Patriot Act in 2001.
In a statement, Feingold said:
"In 2001, I first voted against the Patriot Act because much of it was simply an FBI wish list that included provisions allowing our government to go on fishing expeditions that collect information on virtually anyone. Today's report indicates that the government could be using FISA in an indiscriminate way that does not balance our legitimate concerns of national security with the necessity to preserve our fundamental civil rights. This is deeply troubling. I hope today's news will renew a serious conversation about how to protect the country while ensuring that the rights of law-abiding Americans are not violated."
Sensenbrenner said when he found out about the program from news reports, "I said, 'Wow! This goes much beyond what we envisioned in the Patriot Act.'"
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