Here are even more reasons to rethink the Patriot Act in light of recent revelations about the NSA and PRISM. NBC News’ Open Channel reports:
The FBI has dramatically increased its use of a controversial provision of the Patriot Act to secretly obtain a vast store of business records of U.S. citizens under President Barack Obama, according to recent Justice Department reports to Congress. The bureau filed 212 requests for such data to a national security court last year – a 1,000-percent increase from the number of such requests four years earlier, the reports show.
The FBI’s increased use of the Patriot Act’s “business records” provision — and the wide ranging scope of its requests — is getting new scrutiny in light of last week’s disclosure that that the provision was used to obtain a top-secret national security order requiring telecommunications companies to turn over records of millions of telephone calls.
Taken together, experts say, those revelations show the government has broadly interpreted the Patriot Act provision as enabling it to collect data not just on specific individuals, but on millions of Americans with no suspected terrorist connections. And it shows that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court accepted that broad interpretation of the law.
“That they were using this (provision) to do mass collection of data is definitely the biggest surprise,” said Robert Chesney, a top national security lawyer at the University of Texas Law School. “Most people who followed this closely were not aware they were doing this. We’ve gone from producing records for a particular investigation to the production of all records for a massive pre-collection database. It’s incredibly sweeping.”
The Patriot Act provision, known as Section 215, allows the FBI to require the production of business records and any other “tangible things” — including “books, records, papers, documents and other items,” for an authorized terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation. The Patriot Act was a broad expansion of law enforcement powers enacted by Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In addition to Section 215, other provisions expanded the FBI’s power to issue so-called “national security letters,” requiring individuals and business to turn over a more limited set of records without any court order at all.
From the earliest days of the Patriot Act, Section 215 was among the most hotly disputed of its provisions. Critics charged the language – “tangible things” — was so broad that it would even permit the FBI to obtain library and bookstore records to inspect what citizens were reading.