In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, only one person in the entire U.S. Senate, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, had the courage to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act. And with the recent revelations that the NSA has access to nearly everything you say or do on the internet, it’s worth revisiting his statement on the specific provision being used to justify such intrusions.
One provision that troubles me a great deal is a provision that permits the government under FISA to compel the production of records from any business regarding any person, if that information is sought in connection with an investigation of terrorism or espionage.
Now we’re not talking here about travel records pertaining to a terrorist suspect, which we all can see can be highly relevant to an investigation of a terrorist plot. FISA already gives the FBI the power to get airline, train, hotel, car rental and other records of a suspect.
But under this bill, the government can compel the disclosure of the personal records of anyone — perhaps someone who worked with, or lived next door to, or went to school with, or sat on an airplane with, or has been seen in the company of, or whose phone number was called by — the target of the investigation.
And under this new provisions all business records can be compelled, including those containing sensitive personal information like medical records from hospitals or doctors, or educational records, or records of what books someone has taken out of the library. This is an enormous expansion of authority, under a law that provides only minimal judicial supervision.
And remember, we have strong evidence that this power to get business records has been abused by the FBI through the use of National Security Letters and that the new powers they got from the Patriot Act have routinely been used on non-terrorist investigations. From 2006 to 2009, for instance, the FBI used “sneak and peek” warrants nearly 1800 times. Only 15 of those were for terrorism investigations. 1,618 times they were used in drug cases and 122 times in fraud cases. So now, I do not trust the government with this kind of power.