The announcement came in a morning speech by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy at Georgetown University Law Center. After the Democrats regained control of the Senate, Leahy was selected to oversee the Senate Judiciary Committee, which writes laws on topics from criminal justice and wiretapping to intellectual property.
In a speech titled "Ensuring Liberty and Security through Checks and Balances," many of Leahy's remarks assailed what he deemed an "impulse to unilateralism" by the Bush administration.
"It has acted outside lawful authority to prepared remarks.without warrants, and to create databanks and dossiers on law-abiding Americans without following the law and without first seeking legal authorization," Leahy said in
The longtime senator said he recognized the importance of spying on suspected terrorists to thwart disasters like the September 11 attacks. But he vowed to step up oversight of a National Security Agency surveillance program thathas swept up the phone and Internet activities of countless innocent Americans.
The committee also plans to keep a close watch on government "databanks," such as terrorist watch lists and other screening tools, to ensure they have proper privacy safeguards and allow for speedy correction of mistakes, he added.
Also potentially troubling is "the proliferation of data brokers and the burgeoning market for collecting and selling personal information," Leahy said.
Members of Congresslast year after news of several high-profile data breaches at companies like LexisNexis, ChoicePoint and Bank of America. But none of those measures before politicians went home last weekend.
Leahy said he would push again for legislation that "establishes stronger penalties to deter identity theft and requires companies to notify individuals when their information has been compromised."
Leahy said he also planned to tackle the hot-button issue of. He and outgoing intellectual property panel chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, in August that proposed sweeping changes to the system, including measures aimed at keeping patent disputes out of court and litigation costs down.
High-tech companies, some of which have voiced support for the Leahy-Hatch proposal, have levied a hefty list of gripes about the current system in recent years. They say its setup has encouraged a proliferation of , disproportionately exorbitant settlements in infringement suits, and so-called "," who sit on patents in hopes of seeking a lucrative licensing deal from alleged infringers.
"Reforming our patent system will also be an enormous, but critically important, project in the new Congress," said Leahy, who served as the highest-ranking Democrat on an intellectual property panel in the last session and could be in line for its chairmanship next year.
Congress is scheduled to reconvene on January 4.