Libertarians are rejoicing that the Senate has, so far, been unable to extend the Patriot Act because of the innocuous sounding Section 215. This passage allows the NSA to gather metadata from cell phones used inside the United States and is the basis for claims that the government agency is spying on its citizens.
“The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation…may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things…for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.”
Section 215 allows warrantless gathering of information based on cell phone usage. This information is used by the NSA – and the FBI and CIA – to track suspected terrorists and their activities. However, it can also be used to track anyone in the United States without a warrant or court order. The section also maintains the secrecy of this tracking.
“No person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.”
The Patriot Act, in general, and section 215 in particular, were designed to be a short-cut to identify and prevent terrorist acts without the long and tedious process of obtaining information that would justify a formal investigation. It acts like a giant net that was intended to “sweep up” terrorists by assessing all of the data being generated.
“…records concerned are sought for an authorized investigation…to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”
The NSA cannot or will not point out any successes from the program. There has been no trumpeting of terrorists detained or plots averted by information gathered from the metadata sweep that the NSA has been carrying on for the last 14 years.
An attempt to tone down the Patriot Act and rein in the collection powers of the NSA was passed by the House of Representatives in May, but ran into problems in the Senate. Most Senate Republicans support the information gathering powers granted by the Patriot Act and they found an unlikely ally in President Obama. Democrats have been split over the issue, but due to the way the act was set up, mass surveillance under section 215 ended before the time limit of the Patriot Act did.
Although the USA Freedom Act puts the brakes on the worst excesses of information gathering allowed by the Patriot Act, it is not a perfect law either. The slippery slope of spying on American citizens by the government remains, but the USA Freedom Act slows the process down a little.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.