No compromise on the Patriot Act

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


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.”

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate