Secret Law, Secret Court, Secret Interpretation Add Up To ‘PATRIOTism’

Charlie Savage in the NYT points out a few details, not that very many details are available:

[Sen.] Wyden and [Sen.] Udall have for months been raising concerns that the government has secretly interpreted a part of the Patriot Act in a way that they portray as twisted, allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct some kind of unspecified domestic surveillance that they say does not dovetail with a plain reading of the statute.

The dispute has focused on Section 215 of the Patriot Act. It allows a secret national security court to issue an order allowing the F.B.I. to obtain “any tangible things” in connection with a national security investigation. It is sometimes referred to as the “business records” section because public discussion around it has centered on using it to obtain customer information like hotel or credit card records.

But in addition to that kind of collection, the senators contend that the government has also interpreted the provision, based on rulings by the secret national security court, as allowing some other kind of activity that allows the government to obtain private information about people who have no link to a terrorism or espionage case.

(Bolds mine.)

Sec. 215 has been controversial from the beginning, when the PATRIOT Act was passed quickly in a panic after 9/11/2001, so quickly that many members of Congress did not even have time to read the complete law, let alone research potential consequences.

Now, 10 years later, we still have what may be (who knows?) the single most invasive law ever passed in America… and the allegation here, by two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who ought to know, is that DoJ is using a secret interpretation apart from a plain reading of the law to allow the FBI (at least) to perform secret domestic surveillance in terrorism cases, something heretofore never permitted.

What is the nature of Justice’s misdirection of the public? Simple. From the same article:

The senators also criticized a recent statement by a department spokesman that “Section 215 is not a secret law, nor has it been implemented under secret legal opinions by the Justice Department.” This was “extremely misleading,” they said, because there are secret legal opinions controlling how Patriot Act is being interpreted — it’s just that they were issued by the national security court.

(Bolds mine.)

“Some people say a lie is just a lie, but I say / Why deny the obvious child?” – Paul Simon

I am finding myself increasingly schizophrenic reading this stuff in the same week I’m reading books about the framing of the Constitution. Can I be sure they’re really talking about the same United States of America?

(H/T MadDog on emptywheel’s thread.)

UPDATE: emptywheel has written a much more thorough treatment of Wyden’s and Udall’s investigations, including related matters I didn’t even mention above. Believe me, it doesn’t look any better in light of her observations.

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