USA PATRIOT Act: Leviathan in Search of a Crisis

Nearly 20 years after its hurried passage, key components of the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001), are currently up for renewal. Yet despite no evidence that its sweeping surveillance powers have prevented any acts of terrorism, Section 215 of the Act looks certain to be renewed without amendment.

At its passage, Americans were assured the PATRIOT Act would be used only in surveilling dangerous foreigners. Yet Section 215 provides for the blanket collection of Americans’ communications. As NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake, J. Kirk Wieber, and William Binney–and most famously, Edward Snowden–have revealed, all electronic communications of all Americans are under constant surveillance and are permanently stored so security agencies can look through them whenever an urge strikes.

In addition to Snowden’s revelations, William Binney, a 30-year veteran of the NSA, has detailed, in print, on TV, and to USA Today and the New York Times, that the NSA has spied on “everyone in this country” since 9/11, laying a lie to President Obama’s claim that NSA only stores “metadata.”

The other key component of Section 215 is the mis-named Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, which recent headlines have also shown is routinely used to target and entrap Americans. Citing the Flynn case, Rand Paul had the audacity to propose an amendment that would restrict the use of the FISA Court to–wait for it–foreigners, directing investigators to use regular courts for warrants on Americans.

To the surprise of no one, Paul’s amendment has been rejected, as has another that would have prohibited warrantless surveillance of internet search and browsing records.

The risk to the average American of a terror attack is essentially zero, and mass surveillance by the government on Americans is not the reason: there is absolutely no evidence that any of our private data thus captured and stored has prevented a single terror attack.

Officials ranging from top federal security agencies to local police have repeatedly said that mass surveillance of all Americans is useless. FBI field agents said of the “tips” being generated from NSA’s bulk email collection: “You’re sending us garbage.” Obama’s outgoing NSA director General Keith Alexander testified that the NSA does not need “the whole haystack” of U.S. phone data.

What has prevented further terrorism since 9/11?

traditional investigative tools. The most common was a community or family tip to the authorities. Other methods included the use of informants, a suspicious-activity report filed by a business or community member to the FBI, or information turned up in investigations of non-terrorism cases.

Conclusion: Congress is renewing these powers because they and the Deep State love having these powers. Once they have the Ring they won’t relinquish it unless we wrench it out of their greedy hands: It’s time to call the fearmongers’ bluff and stop the spying.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute.
Posts by Mary L. G. Theroux | Full Biography and Publications
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