Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Time to Limit NSA Snooping Is Now

When Congress passed the PATRIOT Act in 2001, it did not intend to authorize the indiscriminate collection of personal information about every American. But that is what Congress will be doing if it renews the law next month without changes aimed at protecting our privacy from an increasingly intrusive national security state.

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which is scheduled to expire at the end of May, allows the FBI to obtain secret court orders demanding "any tangible things," including "books, records, papers, documents, and other items," that are "relevant" to a terrorism or espionage investigation. For years the Obama administration, with the blessing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, secretly read Section 215 as permitting the mass collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency (NSA).
The NSA's phone-record dragnet was revealed in 2013, thanks to leaks by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden. At first President Obama said it was no big deal, but he changed his mind after polls showed Americans were increasingly skeptical of the program.
Obama now says the NSA does not need to routinely collect information on who called whom, when, and for how long. Instead it can ask phone companies for records tied to particular targets as the needs arises. The current approach, he concedes, needlessly jeopardizes Americans' privacy.