Senators Reveal That Feds Have Secretly Reinterpreted The PATRIOT Act
from the this-is-a-problem dept
We had mentioned, briefly, the amendment that Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall had tried to push for with relation to the renewal of controversial provisions of the PATRIOT Act, however didn’t spend much time discussing it. The details are important — even if we can’t know what most of them are. Basically, what becomes clear is that both Senators — who are on the Senate Intelligence Committee — are aware of the fact that the feds have interpreted the PATRIOT Act provisions much more broadly than the wording suggests, but they’ve kept this interpretation secret. In other words, though the law says one thing, the federal government has announced internally that it’s “interpreting it” an entirely different way, but it’s kept that interpretation secret. The speculation is that these provisions are being massively abused for widespread warrantless wiretapping.
In an interview with Wired, Wyden makes the point clear:
?We?re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says.”
He notes that he has no problem with keeping the techniques the feds use secret, but the interpretation should be public, and that’s what their amendment is about.
And it’s not just the public that’s having the wool pulled over their eyes. Wyden and Udall are pointing out that the very members of Congress, who are voting to extend these provisions, do not know how the feds are interpreting them:
As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee we have been provided with the executive branch’s classified interpretation of those provisions and can tell you that we believe there is a significant discrepancy between what most people – including many Members of Congress – think the Patriot Act allows the government to do and what government officials secretly believe the Patriot Act allows them to do.
Legal scholars, law professors, advocacy groups, and the Congressional Research Service have all written interpretations of the Patriot Act and Americans can read any of these interpretations and decide whether they support or agree with them. But by far the most important interpretation of what the law means is the official interpretation used by the U.S. government and this interpretation is – stunningly -classified.
What does this mean? It means that Congress and the public are prevented from having an informed, open debate on the Patriot Act because the official meaning of the law itself is secret. Most members of Congress have not even seen the secret legal interpretations that the executive branch is currently relying on and do not have any staff who are cleared to read them. Even if these members come down to the Intelligence Committee and read these interpretations themselves, they cannot openly debate them on the floor without violating classification rules.
In the understatement of the year, Wyden and Udall state “this is not acceptable.” I think it goes beyond unacceptable. It’s downright scary. That Congress is about to rubberstamp the extension of the law when they think it says one thing, while the feds pretend it says something entirely different, is a travesty.