PATRIOT Act at 10: the 3 worst provisions for ordinary Americans

As Xeni noted yesterday, the USA PATRIOT Act is now ten years old. In case you were wondering which parts of PATRIOT are the most offensive to liberty, human dignity and commons sense, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has celebrated the occasion with a handy guide to "three of the most dangerous provisions affecting ordinary Americans."

Under this provision, the FBI can obtain secret court orders for business records and other “tangible things” so long as the FBI says that the records are sought "for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must issue the order if the FBI so certifies, even when there are no facts to back it up. These “things” can include basically anything—driver’s license records, hotel records, car-rental records, apartment-leasing records, credit card records, books, documents, Internet history, and more. Adding insult to injury, Section 215 orders come with a "gag " prohibiting the recipient from telling anyone, ever, that they received one.

As the New York Times reported, the government may now be using Section 215 orders to obtain “private information about people who have no link to a terrorism or espionage case.” The Justice Department has refused to disclose how they are interpreting the provision, but we do have some indication of how they are using Section 215. While not going into detail, Senator Mark Udall indicated the FBI believes it to allows them “unfettered” access to innocent Americans’ private data, like “a cellphone company’s phone records” in bulk form. The government’s use of these secret orders is sharply increasing -- from 21 orders in 2009 to 96 orders in 2010, an increase of over 400% -- and according to a brand new report from the Washington Post, 80% of those requests are for Internet records.

Today, EFF sued the Justice Department to turn over records related to the government’s secret interpretation and use of Section 215, regarding which Senator Ron Wyden, like Senator Udall, has offered ominous warnings: "When the American people find out about how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act,” said Wyden on the Senate floor in May, “they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry.”

Ten Years After the Patriot Act, a Look at Three of the Most Dangerous Provisions Affecting Ordinary Americans


  1. If your rights have been violated and you are under a gag order to keep it secret, then, it stands to reason that you should SPEAK UP.  That way when you are prosecuted for violating the gag order, then as a matter of public record, they are revealing that you were secretly investigated and their secret is no longer as secret as they were counting on.  And you have done the right thing to try to help other people not get secretly investigated and gag-ordered.  In other words, it’s ALWAYS in your best interest to SPEAK UP.  It’s the golden rule.

    Read up on Steven Hatfill.  Speaking up worked for him; because he was not afraid.  When you are circled by sharks, your best bet to survive is to poke at them aggressively. Attack the attack.

    1. If your rights have been violated and you are under a gag order to keep it secret, then, it stands to reason that you should SPEAK UP.

      Then they’ll borrow the UK’s ultimately recursive SuperInjunction, which keeps the media from reporting that they’re not allowed to report on being unable to talk about not being able to talk. Dawg.

      1. If it happens to me, I’m coming straight to you guys to help me hand-gesture them into submission and defeat.

  2. You know what I really like about this article? It actually says exactly WHAT in the Patriot Act is so ‘wrong’.

    Most people declare, “Patriot Act Bad!!!! Arrrgggglllleeeeee!” with out being able to list anything specific about the law.

  3. What is the reason behind the “gag” provision? Is it to keep people from knowing what kind of information the FBI thinks they need to gather (so that they can take care to obfuscate that information)?

  4. Can someone put together a companion article listing the best provisions in the PATRIOT Act?  I’d like to see that list as well. 

    I mean, besides the fact that it’s got the word “patriot” in the title.

      1. Yeah, because every politician wants to give his enemies the fodder of “They hate Patriots!”

        This thing will never expire until we call it something else, but I do like your way of thinkin’.

  5. Funny how us “freedom loving Americans” were so quick to make sure that government had entire tool box of laws to pry into anything seen as vaguely “threatening”, whilst plastering up color coded threat level indicators reminding us of the host of unseen (imaginary???), all the while being charged with protecting our freedoms.  Seems to me it’s best to see the fight for freedom on an individual basis instead of relying on government programs that will eventually fail and did allow 19 people with box cutters and financial backing to murder people.  Being free is dangerous, that’s why we seem to like the “less than free” package as presented to us.

  6. Of course Americans will be upset, but that is all they’ll be.  They’ll simple sit, whine and complain.  It is our fault that we allow this.  We vote idiots into office who pass such crap and spend billions of tax dollars (waste), then they slap us in the face for which we say, ‘thank you’ and re-elect themback into office! The cycle never ends.  But government politians say , with a grin on thier face as they race to the bank (that they protect and bail out mind you) “Thankyou and God Bless the Supid American”

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