Patriot Act is worse than you think, senator says


In an interview with Wired's Danger Room, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon, photo above) said the Patriot Act is worse than you've probably heard.

Congress is set to reauthorize three controversial provisions of the surveillance law as early as Thursday. But Wyden says that what Congress will renew is a mere fig leaf for a far broader legal interpretation of the Patriot Act that the government keeps to itself -- entirely in secret. Worse, there are hints that the government uses this secret interpretation to gather what one Patriot-watcher calls a "dragnet" for massive amounts of information on private citizens; the government portrays its data-collection efforts much differently.

"We're getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says," Wyden tells Danger Room in an interview in his Senate office. "When you've got that kind of a gap, you're going to have a problem on your hands."

What exactly does Wyden mean by that? As a member of the intelligence committee, he laments that he can't precisely explain without disclosing classified information. But one component of the Patriot Act in particular gives him immense pause: the so-called "business records provision," which empowers the FBI to get businesses, medical offices, banks and other organizations to turn over any "tangible things" it deems relevant to a security investigation.

There's a Secret Patriot Act (Danger Room)

Also: At Steven Aftergood's Secrecy News site, a related item.

And security researcher Christopher Soghoian has a related post here.


  1. Care to guess the number of Democrats and Republicans are voting to reauthorize the PATRIOT ACT? Go on, guess. Do you know whether the only Senator to vote against the PATRIOT ACT when it was first introduced is still in Congress? Go on, guess.

    Bipartisanship at its finest.

    1. Well, if they (whoever they are) have been collecting data on your life and your family since 2001 (in the name of protecting every member of Congress), would YOU dare vote against it?

      “Senator/Representative, we know about you and that hooker/drug dealer/etc, we have recordings, you do want to be re-elected don’t you?”

      J. Edgar Hoover might have been a pervert, but he wasn’t an idiot!
      (Not to say that the FBI does this now, but certainly SOMEBODY has figured out how he managed to stay in power for decades, it wasn’t rocket science!)
      It’s rather obvious, but information equals power.

      (Don’t worry, I know I’m not anonymous, I’ll get around to registering…)
      This is America, land of free speech, especially if you’re stating the obvious!

      1. If there’s an afterlife, J. Edgar Hoover is wetting his polyester dresses over the FBI’s unlimited power. I hope dead Eisenhower is punching his lights out.

  2. If there is ever an “American Spring” (and with our nations McDonalds & TV back bone that is not likely) I’d like to think that hateful greedy Corporate Entities and the Patriot Act are the two things that drive it.

    Every person who reads this article should send the Congress and the President a formal request to repeal the Patriot Act, and reinstate the Bill of Rights in full.

  3. So the Senator has enough gumption to say something very very bad and scary is happening, but not enough gumption to tell us what that is with any level of detail *at all*?

    I always appreciate a good vague scare from my elected officials.

    1. You don’t seem to understand: he can’t say because he will go to jail. I think that maybe you don’t know what the PATRIOT Act is; you should read it. Especially the part about National Security Letters. I once asked two FBI agents visiting my Ethics in Computing class about them. They couldn’t legally say if they had ever used one. That’s the kind of crap that is in this act. Like Fight Club.

  4. Please people, whatever your opinions of Rand Paul are, please watch this video-

    This is his speech today arguing FOR amending the USA PATRIOT Act to fix these constitutional violations. His position is “amend it or kill it”. 7 other senators joined Rand Paul in voting “naye”. Only 2 were democrats.

    He attempted to filibuster the vote today but Senate Leader Harry Reid did some fast work with the senate rules to stop debate on the bill. Please put down your allegiances and support Rand Paul and the other 7 senators in their defiance of the status quo in Washington.

    1. Leadership from Rand Paul on this issue would be best displayed by his silently standing behind ***anyone*** else who was saying these things. His time has passed now, or did you miss NY-26?

        1. I will, as I agree with you. Maybe we can find a mutually agreeable leader to rally behind if this crisis is so bad.

  5. How would you get rid of a police state once it starts to spiral down like this? Is there really no escape until it ends in a bloody revolution?

      1. I don’t get it.
        Oh wait,
        is that the one about the the boot stomping on a human face forever?
        Humor truly is the balm.

  6. Imagine how we in Australia feel when America claims to be “the leader of the free world”. If that’s the future of the world, the future sucks.

    1. Hate to be the one to break it to you, but Australia is racing America to the bottom of the civil rights pile. America just happens to be currently winning.

    2. This is what you get when your system of carefully thought out check-and-balances is allowed to be gutted. Now that the legislation and executetive branch have killed off the judicial branch, they have free reign and we have no protection from them.

    3. I agree, we have little in terms of true freedom left.

      However, you guys have spiders the size of my head.

      Freedom be damned. I’m staying here.

      Can someone find me a country with excellent moral background and no spiders? I want to move there.

  7. Why do these guys cowar behind claims that is is classified or he would tell us. He’s a member of congress, he can say anything he wants, anything (think mike gravel, pentagon papers) on the congressional record. But he’s a coward so he won’t stand up to the executive branch.

    1. you’re making a big assumption that the executive branch is the organization that needs standing up to. based upon the behavior of the current and the previous executive branch, do you really think they call the shots anymore?

      some function of the unelected state department in collaboration with the business sector most likely calls the shots now. for this president, the previous president, and future presidents at the rate we’re going.

  8. “anything tangible” = DNA, psych records, original identity documents for which there are no copies …

    What the Senator is referring to is the fact that, in the course of an “investigation”, the government is empowered by the Patriot Act to disappear people — c.f. the intro to the popular tv programme “Burn Notice”.

    Attorney-Client privilege? pfft.

  9. ‎”…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”

    1. “…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”

      In the old days, local communities would see this kind of abuse and rally against it. Let’s say the government started snooping around the life of one John Smith. You’d have some government agent going around local stores, asking what kinds of things Mr. Smith has purchased, what the manner of his character is, etc. You might see a couple of government tough-guys bust into his place one night and drag him off for interrogation. The community would start talking, especially as this happened to more and more “good folk.” Now this snooping can all be done through electronic means. Local stores who have an interest in the community? Hah! Any business records the government would have an interest in have mostly been replaced by global corporations, complicit with the government’s demands.

      And frankly, even in egregious cases, we’re already seeing most people shrugging off the violations as acceptable. Body scans and sexual groping? Necessary evil for security. I’d like to point attention to the Arab countries. These guys have a lot more experience with despotic regimes. In all cases, the government uses fear, intimidation, and oppression to stifle any spark of larger protest. This is where we’re headed. And it didn’t change for them for a long time. Until a generation of Arabs came along that were willing to risk everything to be free of governments who act against the will of their people. But in the US, as long as people still can make a living, and they can zone out on coma-inducing food and television after being exhausted by days of overwork, I don’t think we’ll see it get any better. This corrupt government counts on the apathy that exists on a massive scale. Until we’re able to rally around a third party that is free of social issues bickering and corporate money, we’re stuck on the same ship, sinking into the sea in Romanic self-destruction.

  10. Presumably it doesn’t actually matter how the government OR the public interpret the Patriot (sic) act.

    What actually matters is how the courts interpret it?

    I don’t live in the US. Am I missing something?

    1. The fact that the Supreme Court justices are appointed by whoever the president is at the time, and the Senate has to approve of the President’s choices.

      So, if the Presidency and Senate are controlled by one party, that party can shove their agenda through the Supreme Court quite easily.

    2. What you’re missing is that the courts defer to the executive branch in matters where the executive claims that it affects national security. The president simply says “state secrets!” and the courts back off. Ironically, ending the abuses of the Bush admins use of the state secrets privilege was an Obama campaign promise. Not only has Obama not ended that abuse, he has expanded it in ways that Bush never even tried.

  11. So, if the Presidency and Senate are controlled by one party, that party can shove their agenda through the Supreme Court quite easily.

    One of the many many problems with the PATRIOT Act and its sequel is that it allows the Federal government (the departments under the Executive branch with very limited Congressional oversight) to gather information on American citizens without having to obtain a court warrant, bypassing the judicial check built into the 4th Amendment. Moreover, it enables the U.S. government to hold citizens it claims to suspect of terrorist activities without habeas corpus or charging them with a crime. If a released prisoner tries to sue the government for wrongful imprisonment, they can themselves by prosecuted under national security laws. All this is quite unconstitutional, but if the cases never make it to the Circuit Court of Appeals, let alone get heard by the Supremes, there fuck all an individual can do about it.

    Only if Americans as a body politic demand that their legislative representatives put an end to this illegal nonsense or risk getting kicked out come election time will this affront to our founding principles be ended. So far the majority of voters have chosen the illusion of security over the reality of liberty, and every election that they reaffirm that fear the fabric of our republic tears a little further.

    Constitutional checks and balances don’t work when we as a nation fail to require our government to obey the Constitution. Remember, our allegiance, and theirs, is not to them or their offices but to the Republic, it’s people and the historically unprecedented liberty we are throwing away.

  12. “The enemy is not he who is born beyond our borders, nor he who speaks a language different from our own, but he who, without any right, seeks to strip away the liberty and independence of others.”
    –Enrico Malatesta

    1. Actually, I disagree. The majority are against the policy but the populace don’t get to vote on it. You vote someone in office who states that it’s an unjust policy (Obama and company), yet the only change is more of the same—actually, worse.

  13. If there’s an afterlife, J. Edgar Hoover is wetting his polyester dresses over the FBI’s unlimited power. I hope dead Eisenhower is punching his lights out.

    You know, that could make for some great flash animation…

    In the meantime:

  14. Osama is dead, so this isn’t really happening, you guys are just making up phony stories.

  15. So in short: they’re using it as a pretext to ignore the constitution, take any data they want, mine the crap out of it for purposes completely unrelated to the stated purpose of the legislation, and doing it all under as much secrecy as possible.

    Gap? What gap? That sounds like exactly what the Act’s opponents have been saying would happen all along.

  16. The people collecting all this data may have the best of intentions, but it won’t matter if VERY BAD people have access to the digital information!
    A politician could be a saint with an unblemished record, but the use of data could make them into a marionette, undermining the votes they would otherwise make, a bill they otherwise would support won’t get passed because a certain corporation or governmental body has access to real-time locational data, locational data of everyone that the politician has EVER personally known.

    Cell Phone and other gadgets’ reveal their real-time location…
    barring that, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) (RFID readers in store entrances) indicates what store/building they are currently in…
    barring that, Automatic License Plate Recognition (red light cameras) tells where they are on the American roadway system.

    If you say I’m exaggerating, then I say, how could the Surveillance-Industrial Complex possibly resist ABUSING all that power EVENTUALLY?!?!
    What “Check and Balance” is overseeing them?
    There should be CITIZEN COMMITTEES overseeing this unchallenged power!

    I’m SO GLAD that I live in a country where I have FREEDOM OF SPEECH,
    including freedom to criticise what I see as VERY WRONG!!

    The USA “Patriot” Act has been and will forever be a damned TROJAN HORSE.
    Ron Wyden and Rand Paul are true PATRIOTs, not in the pejorative use of the word in the title USA “PATRIOT” ACT, the original non-treacherous meaning of the word.

    1. CognitiveDissident,

      You might want to get a little WD40 for your Caps Lock.

      1. exactly!
        i’m glad someone was able to get the true reason for my post, hidden in the subtext…the complete overuse of caps lock and how it should be eliminated from all keyboards…
        orwell warned us, why didn’t we listen, a little bit of soul disappears with each press of that button of the establishment…
        and that wd-40 trick thing really works, thanks antinous/moderator…
        gulliver, your worries were unfounded, why i cannot even find the caps lock key now after i sprayed it an hour ago, the powerful effect of wd-40 even extended to my shift key… (shift key, don’t you mean shaft key!?)
        my next surprise hidden post will be about ellipsis, let’s “elliminate” ellipses, a subliminal tool of the 3-eyed NWO reptile people…

        1. alrighty then…

          i guess wd-40 can’t do too much damage being as it’s nonconductive, but good luck getting it off or, if you’re on a laptop, keeping it off the screen.

          ~ trinocular reptilia, f.m.

    1. How can we have fallen so far, so quickly?

      Incrementally. Many small transgressions, each in themselves seemingly small and so superficially defensible to the partisan hacks of whoever is in office when they’re implemented.

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