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Debunking the Patriot Act as It Turns 15

“The Patriot Act turns 15 today, but that’s nothing to celebrate.”

Number 4:

Surveillance under the Patriot Act goes far beyond your phone company – Section 215 dramatically expanded the “business records” provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Although it was most notoriously used for the NSA’s call record program and was reformed by the USA FREEDOM Act, despite those reforms, the provision still allows the FBI to obtain records from any type of business, including your car rental company, your school, or your employer.

… or your library.

Appeals court ruling on the NSA collection of phone records

UPDATED (5/8/2015) Concurring opinion added. News of the recent ruling by a federal appeals court that the National Security Agency’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone records violates the Patriot Act is widely available. Below are the links to a couple of good accounts of the ruling and the ruling itself.

  • N.S.A. Phone Data Collection Is Illegal, Appeals Court Rules, By CHARLIE SAVAGE and JONATHAN WEISMAN, New York Times (May 7, 2015).
  • NSA program on phone records is illegal, court rules By Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post (May 7, 2015).
  • Case 14-42, Document 168-1, 05/07/2015, 1503586 United States Court Of Appeals For The Second Circuit August Term, 2014 (Argued: September 2, 2014 Decided: May 7, 2015) Docket No. 14‐42‐cv American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Plaintiffs‐Appellants, v. JAMES R. CLAPPER, in his official capacity as Director of National Intelligence, MICHAEL S. ROGERS, in his official capacity as Director of the National Security Agency and Chief of the Central Security Service, ASHTON B. CARTER, in his official capacity as Secretary of Defense, LORETTA E. LYNCH, in her official capacity as Attorney General of the United States, and JAMES B. COMEY, in his official capacity as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Defendants‐Appellees. SACK and LYNCH , Circuit Judges, and BRODERICK, District Judge.
  • SACK, Circuit Judge, concurring.

Not Your Grandmother’s Librarian


The Cover story of The Nation this weeks is about librarians battling for privacy.

Amy Sonnie, a librarian and activist in Oakland, told me that there’s a debate within the profession about whether librarianship is, or should be, politically neutral. “I can and should be an advocate around issues that impact our ability to fulfill our mission, and privacy is one of those issues,” she said. Sonnie and Macrina both see privacy as not just an issue of intellectual freedom, but also of social justice. “We serve members of communities who have been historically under greater surveillance than the rest of the population: immigrants, Muslim-Americans, people of color, political dissidents,” Macrina explained.

The article recounts some recent history of how individual librarians and libraries and the ALA have advocated for privacy for readers — one of ALA’s core values since 1939 — and gives examples of recent battles against the NSA and Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

Privacy And Civil Liberties Oversight Board releases report on NSA bulk telephone records program

The Privacy And Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) has released its report on the National Security Agency’s program of collecting bulk phone call records. Thirteen U.S. Senators asked the PCLOB to investigate two NSA programs (referred to as section 215 and 702 of the USA PATRIOT Act) and the operation of the FISA court. The Board was asked to provide an unclassified report “so that the public and the Congress can have a long overdue debate” about the privacy issues raised. This Report contains the results of the Board’s 215 program study as well as its analysis and recommendations regarding the FISC’s operation. The Board recommends that “The government should end its Section 215 bulk telephone records program.”

PATRIOT Act anniversary roundup

The [w:USA PATRIOT Act] (aka Public Law 107-56) turned 10 last week. The ACLU did a great roundup including a telling infographic that was just too big to post here. Be sure to check it out.

So. The Patriot Act turned 10 on Wednesday, October 26, 2011. And all we got were violations of our civil liberties. Well, that and this really awesome infographic, which contains information like this fun fact: Did you know that under the relaxed National Security Letter (NSL) standards in the Patriot Act, between 2003 and 2005, the FBI issued 143,074 NSLs, and reported a big, whopping zero terrorism prosecutions as a result? Zero, zilch, none, nada.

So what was the FBI using their shiny, new terrorism-fighting-intelligence-gathering powers for? Well, they did refer 17 criminal money laundering cases, 17 immigration-related cases, and 19 fraud cases. And the other 143,021 NSLs? Well, thanks to the gag order that accompanies them, the innocent people whose personal information was sought from third parties will never know.