How the US Congress lost the plot on secrecy, surveillance and accountability

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To hide his role in championing the use of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act to collect of Americans’ phone data and other “tangible things”, one of the architects of that legislation, Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, edited a quote in a letter (pdf) to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday to suggest he never knew how the FBI and NSA were using the authority his legislation had granted:

“Section 215 has been used to obtain driver’s license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like.”

Sensenbrenner quoted from Acting Assistant Attorney General Todd Hinnen’s testimony (pdf) before the House Judiciary Committee in 2011:

“It has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records … On average, we seek and obtain section 215 orders less than 40 times per year.”

Sensenbrenner used this passage to claim DOJ had incorrectly told the committee it was using the provision “sparingly”.

The letter was a response to the Guardian’s report that FBI and NSA had used of Section 215 to collect data from all of Verizon’s customers for a three-month period starting in April. Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein made it clear on Thursday that collection program has been used for seven years, presumably back to the first Patriot Act extension in 2006, suggesting the program has been used for years to collect the phone data on all Americans.

Read the full article here.

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