Text of senators’ letter challenging Patriot Act abuses

(Updated March 17 at 2 pm MT)

The full text of the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder from Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) concerning our government’s interpretation and application of the Patriot Act speaks more eloquently for itself than any report or summary of its contents. The senators are members of the Senate intelligence committee and as such have access to more high-level secret information than anyone else in Congress. Their concern about the U.S. government’s questionable interpretation of the Patriot Act as justification for certain covert activities is chilling.

For more on this story see yesterday’s “Patriot Act under fire from senators & FOI lawsuits.”

For details on how the government is using the Patriot Act, particularly Section 215, see EFF’s “Sunshine Week: Forecast Looks Cloudy for PATRIOT Act Transparency.” An excerpt:

Section 215 allows the government to apply and obtain orders from a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Those secret, classified orders can require businesses, like ISPs or phone companies, to turn over “any tangible thing” relevant to a foreign intelligence or terrorism investigation. According to the Washington Post, 80% of those orders are for internet records. A 215 Order also gags the recipient — that is, the order specifically prohibits the company from ever disclosing the fact that the order was received.

And that’s just what the text of Section 215 says. Elected officials briefed on the way the government has interpreted and used the section claim that there are really two Section 215’s: one consistent with the language of the statute, and one that has stretched and expanded the section’s plain meaning through secret court opinions and secret DOJ legal interpretations. Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have repeatedly warned about the government’s secret use of 215 and have publicly called on the DOJ and the secret court to make those interpretations public.

Wyden Udall letter to Holder about Patriot Act, page 1Wyden Udall letter to Holder about Patriot Act, page 2Wyden Udall letter to Holder about Patriot Act, page 3

7 thoughts on “Text of senators’ letter challenging Patriot Act abuses

  1. Chilling indeed. Classification of national-security information has of course been ubiquitous throughout the lives of every American now living. It accelerated of course during the paranoia of the Cold War and now it is obvious that the post-9/11 fears of terrorism have fostered it even more. The book “Top Secret America” captures this well and should be read by everyone, but even if they do so I think the process has gone too far for anyone to diminish it. Secrecy offers cover for all sorts of mischief, something Senators Udall and Wyden clearly understand. But appealing to the Attorney General to do something about it seems like drops in a rain barrel to me. Classification has acquired a life of its own in the secret executive suites of the military industrial complex.

    1. I agree about Holder. I think this is all above him and out of his reach. Nothing I’ve seen indicates he does anything more than cover his own behind. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of it is also kept out of sight of the president.

  2. When I read the part about the gap between what the public thinks the law allows and what the governement secretly claims the law allows, I admit that I got an image of Inigo Montoya saying “I do not think the Patriot Act means what you think it means.” You know, because if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.

    1. I’ve assumed from Day One that the act was dangerous. It’s just another iteration of “we have to destroy the village in order to save it.” Only this time they’re destroying our constitutional rights and freedoms.

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