The next vote on the Patriot Act

Jesse Sutterley, Staff member

Congress will decide in June whether security agencies should still be allowed to track individuals’ cell phone and Internet usage without getting a warrant or identifying a specific suspect.

The vote will decide whether three sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) should expire.

The FISA, of 1978 allowed the government to collect  foreign and domestic data in the name of national security.

FISA can be summed up in article 103(a) of the bill, which allows seven district court judges in the United States to approve electronic surveillance anywhere in the United States.

However, it wasn’t until the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 that the Bush Administration laid the groundwork for more extensive domestic surveillance through the USA Patriot Act.

This bill was the springboard for departments such as the National Security Agency (NSA). It also created smaller programs like PRISM, a classified program made public in the Snowden leaks. PRISM is the government code name for a program that collects and stores users’ Internet information and forces companies to hand over any information the NSA requests. These programs collect and store your personal data on government servers without your knowledge or consent.

The three sections up for renewal in June are sections 206, 215 and 6001. Known as Roving Surveillance Authority, 206 details what circumstances are necessary for surveillance of an individual to be approved. Section 206 allows for extensive wire tapping and Internet tracking of an individual without identifying a suspect by name. These wiretaps can last up to a year and enable the FBI to investigate anyone at will.

Section 215(a)(1) states that the director of the FBI can require the production of any “tangible things.” This includes books, records, papers and documents related to an investigation of a United States resident, as long as the investigation is not made solely on the basis of their activities protected under the First Amendment.

This section has already affected Verizon Wireless. The court order that was given to Verizon was not supposed to be declassified until 2038, however “The Guardian” was able to obtain a copy and released it online.

Under section 215, any persons suspected of threatening national security could potentially be tried and convicted without being present or having knowledge of the charges in the first place.

The final section up for renewal in June is section 6001, also known as the lone wolf provision. This section defines “foreign power” and “agent of a foreign power” to include individuals who engage in “international terrorism,” whether or not they are affiliated with another country.

Section 6001 is not actually part of the Patriot Act, but part of  the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA). Section 6001 does not affect US citizens, but could affect legal residents who are not citizens, among others.

Since its enactment, the Patriot Act and its sister bills have thwarted zero terrorist attacks. A report released in Jan. 2014 by the New America Foundation stated that only one out of 17 credited NSA cases has lead to a conviction. This leads some to believe that it’s no longer necessary to use these laws.

In June 2013 Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the NSA, leaked thousands of confidential documents to journalists. For this, Snowden had to flee the country and is now under asylum in Moscow, Russia. Snowden’s leaks exposed the the extent of government surveillance to the public for the first time. As stated above, programs like PRISM were kept secret from the public, and without Snowden’s leaks the discussion about domestic surveillance may never have been made.

Readers who want to give input on the renewal of these sections should contact Mark DeSaulnier, from California’s 11th district (Richmond, Concord, Antioch, Danville), and Mike Thompson from California’s 5th district (Martinez, Vallej0 and north).