June 1 Showdown: Repealing the Patriot Act

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The Patriot Act has been a top news item lately, especially since the most controversial section of it is set to expire June 1st, but not without a fight.

If you haven’t been following recent developments, here are a few important details. Six weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a rattled Congress drafted and swiftly passed the “USA/Patriot Act,” an overnight revision of the nation’s surveillance laws that vastly expanded the government’s authority to spy on its own citizens, while simultaneously reducing checks and balances on those powers like judicial oversight, public accountability, and the ability to challenge government searches in court. For a more detailed description of how surveillance works under the Patriot Act and how it violates ordinary citizens’ rights, give this a read.

If you investigate the changes made to surveillance law by the Patriot Act you discover they were part of a longstanding law enforcement wish list that had been previously rejected by Congress on numerous occasions. However, in the frightening weeks that followed the 9/11 attack, congress reversed course, pushed by the Bush Administration. The Senate version of the Patriot Act was sent straight to the floor with no discussion, debate, or hearings. Many congressmen did not have an opportunity to thoroughly read, analyze, or vet the bill’s numerous and lengthy provisions. In fact, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the original authors of the Patriot Act, later declared that he was shocked by how the law was used to spy on innocent Americans.

In 2013 Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the CIA, leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) to the mainstream media, which included details of extensive internet and phone surveillance by American intelligence. Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, faces espionage charges over his actions.

The scandal broke in early June 2013 when the Guardian newspaper reported that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans.

The paper published the secret court order directing telecommunications company Verizon to hand over all its telephone data to the NSA on an “ongoing daily basis.”

That report was followed by revelations in both the Washington Post and Guardian that the NSA tapped directly into the servers of nine internet firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to track online communication in a surveillance program known as Prism.

Currently under the Patriot Act, everyday citizens are subject to: (1) Roving wiretaps, where you can be caught in a phone sweep, without specific warrant; (2) The infamous “library provision,” where The State can monitor your reading habits, even if you have no connection to terrorism; (3) National Security Letters, a tool used instead of warrants, whereby the FBI can spy on you, and the service providers who share your private info can’t tell you about it; (4) Provisions that require banks to report your financial activities to federal agents.

You may have heard that the Patriot Act is set to expire soon. That’s not quite the case.

Two years after Edward Snowden exposed the National Security Agency’s secret collection of the data of millions of Americans’ private communications, the bulk of those programs remain intact. But the key section of the Patriot Act that the NSA used to authorize that program is set to expire on June 1.

The Patriot Act was a large bill, and not all of it is due to expire.  However, three provisions do expire on June 1st: Section 215; the “Lone Wolf provision;” and the “roving wiretap” provision. All of these sections are concerning, but Section 215 is the most troublesome. It’s the authority that the NSA, with the FBI’s help, has interpreted to allow the U.S. government to vacuum up the call records of millions of innocent people.

There is a last hour push by the NSA to re-up on these sections of the Patriot Act.  You can make a difference and help secure the first historic move away from mass surveillance.

Go to sunsetthepatriotact.com and make your voice heard.

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