By Mark Benjamin Friday
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee is weighing fresh concerns about the sweeping nature of domestic spying using one controversial section of the Patriot Act. This particular part of that law is notable because it has been divisive for years ? and because during those years President Obama has quietly moved from being a Senator skeptical of the provisions to being an enthusiastic spy chief whose Administration embraces them.
Last Tuesday the committee met to consider the worries of some members, mostly Democrats, who say the Justice Department has drafted a breathtakingly broad interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
That section allows the FBI to seize without a warrant "any tangible things," like documents, so long as they are part of an effort to protect the country against international terrorism. The FBI can order a private company to turn over data as long as the bureau can convince a special national-security court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, that the information is "relevant" to antiterrorism work.
Obama Administration officials emphasize that this review by the intelligence court is an important step in protecting privacy. Privacy advocates, however, consider it little more than a rubber stamp. " 'Relevant' means some noncrazy reason for asking for it," said the Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez, who believes the government is using that authority to sweep up huge amounts of communications data.
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