Passed in the wake of Sept. 11, the PATRIOT Act received only one dissenting vote but has since become one of the most controversial bills in recent history. It is the legal basis for a government program exposed by the Guardian on Wednesday that collects the call records of Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint Nextel customers. Every time many Americans make a call, the “NSA gets a record of the location, the number called, the time of the call and the length of the conversation,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The program relies specifically on Section 215, which allows the government to compel organizations to give up certain records, even if the records are about individuals who are not terror suspects.
This act made permanent several expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. It extended Section 215 while providing for greater congressional and judicial oversight of it. It also required that Section 215 orders relate to national security investigations.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Thursday pointed to the FISA Amendments Act as justification for PRISM, a secret federal program exposed by the Washington Post on Friday that mines data from Apple, Google, and seven other major tech companies for activity that threatens national security. Collected data include chat logs, emails, social networking data, file transfers, and more.
The FISA Amendments Act allows the federal government to acquire records about individuals without warrants as long as the data collection does not “intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located the U.S.,” Clapper said. He acknowledged that the program includes “incidentally acquired information” about U.S. people when they communicate to other people overseas.
The act extended provisions of the Patriot Act Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005.
The act, passed in December, renewed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.
Read more on Slate about the NSA’s secret snooping programs .
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