It was Never Authorized by PATRIOT Act

Source: by Jay Syrmopoulos on May 7, 2015


This decision is the most substantial blow to the NSA domestic spying program thus far. The plaintiff that brought this case was the American Civil Liberties Union. An ACLU attorney, in a statement to The Intercept, said, “This ruling should make clear, once and for all, that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is unlawful. And it should cast into doubt the unknown number of other mass surveillance operations of the NSA that rely on a similarly flawed interpretation of the law.”

In the court’s opinion, Lynch wrote:

“To obtain a § 215 order, the government must provide the FISC [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] with ‘a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment).’”

The collection operates under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the government to collect “any tangible things” that the government alleges are “relevant to” a terror investigation.

The government used this as the basis for collecting massive amounts of digital records. This information can be used to reveal, “civil, political, or religious affiliations,” as Lynch wrote, as well as personal behavior and “intimate relationships.”

Lynch went on to directly rebuke the government’s position in the decision writing:

“The government emphasizes that “relevance” is an extremely generous standard, particularly in the context of the grand jury investigations to which the statute analogizes orders under § 215. Appellants argue that relevance is not an unlimited concept, and that the government’s own use (or non-use) of the records obtained demonstrates that most of the records sought are not relevant to any particular investigation. …

The records demanded are all-encompassing; the government does not even suggest that all of the records sought, or even necessarily any of them, are relevant to any specific defined inquiry.”

What is telling about this entire situation is that none of this would be transpiring if it were not for the revelations brought forth by Edward Snowden, which publicly revealed the existence of this megalithic program.

Even lawmakers were caught by surprise at the breadth of the domestic spying in the wake of Snowden’s disclosures. Even the author of the Patriot Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), went on record stating that he never intended the bill to authorize the NSA to use it to sweep up bulk data of innocent Americans.

There has been an effort to push back against NSA overreach in the form of the USA Freedom Act, which would limit certain types of bulk data collection practices, while entrenching others, and force the agency to request from private companies specific sets of phone records involved in a case.

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