The part of the PATRIOT Act that has been used to legitimate the mass collection of all of our phone call information, and much else besides, is a wicked awful provision known as “Section 215.” Section 215 allows the FBI – and, it appears, other intelligence agencies too – to collect “any tangible things” that are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation. As it turns out, the intelligence community has argued explicitly that every single call in the United States is “relevant”. So, it appears, if we don’t let the NSA know exactly when I called the Danish Pastry House in Watertown about my one-year-old daughter’s first birthday cake, then ISIS will destroy us all.
Section 215 is also set to sunset on June 1, even though lawmakers have no information on how it’s been used for the last six years.
The intelligence community has gone to Full Fearmonger over this. We hear from lawmakers that, in closed-door sessions, they are literally waving pictures of the burning Twin Towers at our elected officials, and telling them that if Section 215 lapses and there’s another attack, the lawmakers will be responsible for it.
Seriously. That’s what they’re arguing. This is beyond stupid.
There’s actually no evidence that Section 215’s mass surveillance programs have ever stopped a terrorist attack. The best the intelligence community has come up with is that Section 215 may have stopped a San Diego taxi driver, Basaaly Moalin, from wiring $8,500 to al-Shabaab, the East African fundamentalist group. Even there, the point sort of gets lost that he was wiring the money to al-Shabaab fighters in his hometown so that they could fend off a US-supported invasion of the area by the Ethiopian army, but whatever. Al-Shabaab are not good people; but is depriving them of $8,500 really an acceptable trade for allowing the government to have all of our phone call data, for ever?
Not that all mass surveillance is governed by Section 215. Far from it, actually. The DEA runs, or possibly ran, its own mass metadata collection program to support the War on Drugs. Internet collection happens under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. And a Reagan-era executive order, EO12333, gives the President more or less a free hand to intercept the communications of all foreign nationals outside the US, with the result that we now conduct “full take” collection of all phone and Internet traffic in over 25 countries (that we know of).
For this reason, my organization, along with an extremely broad left-right coalition of other groups, is behind the introduction of a bipartisan bill this session: HR 1466, the Surveillance State Repeal Act. It would repeal all of the PATRIOT Act, and all of the authorities underlying mass surveillance, provide protections for intelligence community whistleblowers, and reform the rubber-stamping Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
So far, three of our nine congressmembers (McGovern, Capuano, and Neal) have cosponsored the SSRA. But we really need more. Every single cosponsor on this bill lends weight to the argument that Congress is just not going to reauthorize Section 215 as it stands. So I’m appealing to BMG, the best possible community, for your help. We’d like anybody who is interested to call their Massachusetts reps as soon as possible, asking them to cosponsor it too and letting them know that three of their MA colleagues are already cosponsoring it. Here are the numbers:
Clark (ask for legislative staffer Mr. John Moreschi): (202) 225-2836.
Keating (ask for legislative staffer Ms. Naz Durakoglu): (202) 225-3111.
Lynch (ask for legislative staffer Mr. Bruce Fernandez): (202) 225-8273.
Moulton (ask for legislative staffer Mr. Steve Snodgrass): (202) 225-8020.
Tsongas (ask for legislative staffer Mr. Bob Schneider): (202) 225-3411.
Kennedy (ask for legislative staffer Mr. Eric Fins): (202) 225-5931.
Make the call. Now is the time. If you’re in the districts of the Mighty Three who have cosponsored, please call them to thank them. If you’re in the districts of the Hesitant Six (Clark, Keating, Kennedy, Lynch, Moulton and Tsongas), please call them and ask them to cosponsor HR 1466, the Surveillance State Repeal Act, and to pledge to oppose the renewal of Section 215.
At the same time, please ask them to oppose the renewal of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, and to oppose the passage of CISA, the “Cybersecurity Intelligence Sharing Act”, a pro-surveillance bill that actual cybersecurity experts strongly oppose.
Even in the panicked aftermath of 9-11, Congress recognized that some parts of the PATRIOT Act shouldn’t last forever. That’s why this has a June 1 sunset date. There are voters now who weren’t even in kindergarten when 9-11 happened. It’s time to end this unconstitutional “emergency” legislative experiment with mass surveillance. It’s not good for us.