The Patriot Act is an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat, Obama said. The acta frontal assault on the Bill of Rightswas adopted with only one vote opposed in the Senate in 2001.
During a brief Congressional debate on the renewed provisions, the most controversial was Section 215, giving the FBI access to any individuals bank records, medical histories, and personal papers such as diaries and letters. All the federal cops need to do is have a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court rubber stamp the spying as necessary to protect against international terrorism.
The use of secret courts to provide legal cover for systematic violations of constitutional protections came at the initiative of liberals after the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. Self-proclaimed civil libertarians pushed to create these special snoopers courts as a way to help the government spy on workers by setting up phony checks and balances.
An FBI request to the FISA court need not include even a pretense of factual justification. The court cannot deny an investigation certified by the FBI as having to do with terrorism or espionage. A person targeted by Section 215 has no right to legally challenge it. Any entity forced to turn over records, a public library or doctors office for example, is prohibited even from telling anyone about it.
The FBI applied forand was granted permission formore than 1,500 electronic surveillance operations and other searches last year.
Democratic senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the Justice Department interpretation of Section 215 is even more sweeping and invasive in practice than its language would lead one to believe. When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry, he said. Sen. Mark Udall, who is also on the Intelligence Committee, made similar remarks.
The two senators notwithstanding, the American people have no way to find out, since the Justice Departments interpretation of Section 215 remains classified.
The Obama administration had no comment.
A second Patriot Act provision that was renewed sanctions roving wiretaps, allowing the police to listen in on an individuals phone conversations no matter what phone theyre using.
The third provision is known as the Lone Wolf section. It authorizes spying on anyone the government brands a terrorist even without evidence of connection to a government-targeted group or foreign government.
In the Senate, the vote was 72 to 23 in favor of the bill. Among those opposed was Republican senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul demanded a full debate on the Patriot Act, which he said is an invasion of privacy. He backed two amendments to the act that failed. One would have exempted gun purchase records from the documents the police can request a business turn over. The other would make the police, not banks, responsible for suspicious activity reports on individuals financial activities.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, We would be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected, if the measures were not renewed. Attorney General Eric Holder said, We never want to see these acts, these provisions, expire.
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