The U.S. government contends that the bulk collection of U.S. phone records is authorised by section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.
Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author of the original USA PATRIOT Act, disagrees.
In a amicus brief filed in support of the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of U.S. phone records, Sensenbrenner argues that the government has gone far beyond what the legislation authorizes.
Section 215, known as the business records provision, authorizes intelligence agencies to apply for information if “the records are relevant to an ongoing foreign intelligence investigation.”
In practice, the NSA uses section 215 to collect data pertaining to every phone call to, from, and within the U.S. in the name of combating terrorism.
Sensenbrenner and the other members of Congress who enacted Section 215 “did not intend to authorise the program at issue in this lawsuit or any program of a comparable scope,” according to the brief.
The brief goes on to propose this question (emphasis ours):
The NSA is gathering on a daily basis the details of every call that every American makes, as well as every call made by foreigners to or from the United States. How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?”
Filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the brief notes that Sensenbrenner “was not aware of the full scope of the program when he voted to reauthorize Section 215” and would have voted against it if he had known.
In Sensenbrenner’s words: “The suggestion that the administration can violate the law because Congress failed to object is outrageous. But let them be on notice: I am objecting right now.”
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