What is Obama Keeping Secret about the Patriot Act?

Friday, May 27, 2011
Before Congress passed the reauthorization of the Patriot Act on Thursday, two Democratic U.S. senators objected that some provisions of the law give the government broad authority to secretly spy on Americans.
But what those provisions entail is a mystery, because the legal interpretation supporting them is classified.
During the debate on the reauthorization, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said, “I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.” Earlier, he told Wired’s Danger Room, “We’re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says.
Wyden declined to elaborate, saying he’s bound by law as a member of the Senate intelligence committee not to disclose classified information. He did offer that one component he has doubts about is Section 215, the “business-records provision” that allows the FBI to force businesses, medical offices, banks, libraries and other organizations to turn over any “tangible things” it deems relevant to a security investigation.
Wyden and Senator Mark Udall of Colorado have offered an amendment to the Patriot Act reauthorization that criticizes the Obama administration for “secretly reinterpret[ing] public laws and statutes.” It would force the attorney general to “publicly disclose the United States Government’s official interpretation of the USA Patriot Act.”
Surveillance under the business-records provisions has been increasing, based on numbers released by the Department of Justice. These show the number of requests to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for approval of collecting business records went up from 21 in 2009 to 96 times in 2010. In fact, the court didn’t reject a single request.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Senators Say Patriot Act Is Being Misinterpreted (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)
How Can Congress Debate a Secret Law? (Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, Huffington Post)
Wyden-Udall Amendment (FireDogLake.com) (pdf)


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