No compromise on the Patriot Act

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Remember, back in April, when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he was open to changing the Patriot Act? Well, a change has been proposed, but it’s to expand the already sweeping power afforded the FBI. The Justice Department has been in negotiations with the Senate Intelligence Committee to push through a bill to expand the FBI’s search and surveillance powers via something called “administrative subpoenas.” Phillip Carter translates for us lay-folk: “These are little more than formal letters from the FBI, which carry the weight of the law, and allow the FBI to get documents without a judge approving a search warrant or judicial subpoena. They are, in effect, a short-circuit of the 4th Amendment’s warrant requirements for searches and seizures”

Essentially, the FBI is pushing to be able to authorize themselves, without a judge’s sign-off, to subpoena medical records, tax records, and any other material that it deemed relevant to its intelligence investigation. It would therefore remove safeguards currently in place. According to one Democratic Congressional official, “This all comes down to not wanting an FBI agent to have to go to a prosecutor and then the court to get formal approval.”

It gets worse: the current law “would be amended to specify that material must be ‘relevant’ to a foreign intelligence investigation.” Don’t let the seemingly positive word “relevant” fool you. As Carter writes,

Showing that something is relevant to a foreign intelligence investigation is actually a significantly lower standard that what currently exists in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which states that…warrants shall only be issued where ‘a significant purpose of the surveillance is to obtain foreign intelligence information’ This…change…will allow DoJ to use FISA powers in any case that is merely relevant to a foreign intelligence matter, broadly defined. In theory, DoJ can define a wide band of actors as national security threats—terrorist, terrorist sympathizers, material supporters, narco-traffickers…”

Or the ACLU. The ACLU recently issued a statement saying that, “the FBI and local police are engaging in intimidation based on political association and are improperly investigating law-abiding human rights and advocacy groups.” The statement was based on information from FOIA documents that the ACLU has obtained. But it doesn’t look like the ACLU, or, indeed, anyone outside the Senate Intelligence Committee will have any say in the matter. The Committee is scheduled to have a closed meeting on Thursday “to review classified information about how the Patriot Act has been used.”

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REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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