Time for Patriot Act reform

President Obama is pushing to re-authorize three pernicious parts of the Patriot Act that are up for renewal this year.

The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11, granted the government unprecedented power to fight crime and terrorism. Power that has gone unchecked and led to civil liberties violations, like these.

Here’s the ACLU’s description of the three parts of the Act being pushed for renewal by Obama:

  1. Section 206, a.k.a. the “roving wiretap” provision: Section 206 allows the FBI to get an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to wiretap a targetwithout having to provide the target’s name or even their phone number. The provision only requires that the target is described “with particularity,” and that the FBI tell FISC why it had to tap the phone after it was tapped. It basically lacks any kind of specificity that, you know, a real warrant would need.
  2. Section 6001, a.k.a. the “lone wolf” provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA): Section 6001 authorizes the government to get secret surveillance orders against individuals who are not associated with any international terrorist group or foreign nation. As the report points out, an international terrorist acting independently of any organization or country is pretty pie-in-the-sky unlikely.
  3. Section 215, a.k.a. the “library provision”: The term “any tangible thing” should raise your hackles. Like the previous two provisions, Section 215 also lowers the bar on the standard of proof needed to get a court order to surveil. Before the Patriot Act was passed, probable cause showing that the target of surveillance was the agent of a foreign power was required. After Patriot, Section 215 allows the FBI to only claim that the items or information sought is relevant to an investigation. That means the person being surveilled doesn’t necessarily have to be the target of the investigation or even be suspected of involvement in terrorism.

Liberals and civil libertarians have long opposed the Patriot Act. Even Obama was an opponent back before he joined the Senate, going as far as to call the Act “shoddy and dangerous.” But since his elections to national office he has supported repeated reauthorization with a few caveats here and there.

Luckily for us, there are some Democrats in Washington willing to take a principled stand:

U.S. Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall(D-NM), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have introduced legislation to fix problems with surveillance laws that threaten the rights and liberties of American citizens.  The Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act would reform the USA PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act and other surveillance authorities to protect Americans’ constitutional rights, while preserving the powers of our government to fight terrorism.

The JUSTICE Act reforms include more effective checks on government searches of Americans’ personal records, the “sneak and peek” search provision of the PATRIOT Act, “John Doe” roving wiretaps and other overbroad authorities.  The bill will also reform the FISA Amendments Act, passed last year, by repealing the retroactive immunity provision, preventing “bulk collection” of the contents of Americans’ international communications, and prohibiting “reverse targeting” of innocent Americans.  And the bill enables better oversight of the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) after the Department of Justice Inspector General issued reports detailing the misuse and abuse of the NSLs.  The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, September 23rd, on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Best of luck guys.


When I know more, I’ll let you all know where you can donate to help pass the JUSTICE Act.


  1. Ian

    Yeah yeah, but you know what will be tacked on to the (omg r u srs?) JUSTICE act: pork! And probably some other shady crap like whats in the Patriot Act, namely revisions with shiftly language and loopholes meant to “protect” us.

  2. Chris

    No doubt. Bills don’t pass Congress without some sort of crap tacked on. As long as the crux of the bill isn’t compromised, I think we’d be looking at a net benefit.