The Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) 2001 is a piece of legislation signed into law in the wake of 9/11, designed to strengthen domestic security controls within the US.
The act as a whole has since derived much criticism surrounding the provision it affords for detaining immigrants indefinitely and the power it gives to law enforcement in terms of making secret searches of homes and businesses, without the owner’s prior consent or even knowledge.
But it is another area of the law that has garnered a huge amount of publicity recently – Section 215 – which allows law enforcement to access records and other items under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Subsequent bulk collection of data under section 215, as originally revealed by Edward Snowden, piqued both the curiosity and the wrath of the general public who, to some degree, then began questioning the data collection practices of the US government in particular, as well as other similar actions by other nation’s security services.
Due to the potentially contentious nature of the Patriot Act’s provisions, it was drafted in such a way that it would automatically expire, unless specifically extended.
Since then, key elements of the Act have been repeatedly extended with the most recent “sunset extension” coming on 26 May, 2011.
That latest four-year addition is due to come to an end in less than two months from now.
Enter Fight 215
The Fight 215 movement has sprung up to combat what it describes as surveillance abuses by the NSA.
Backed by a number of high-profile organisations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Brennan Center for Justice, it urges US citizens to make a stand against Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the legislation under which the FBI and the NSA have collected phone data from millions of Americans, and others, even though they have neither been accused nor suspected of committing any crime.
Visitors to the Fight 215 web page are encouraged to make contact with their elected member of Congress and ask them to “stand for privacy and liberty, not secrecy and fear”.
Concerned citizens can make contact with the relevant representative for their area either directly or via entering their phone number into the website.
For anyone who is unsure of what to say, a prepared script is available, saying:
I’m one of your constituents, and I’m calling to urge you to end the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.
NSA surveillance illegally invades my privacy, along with millions of other innocent people, without making me safer.
Fight 215 provides a small amount of information about the Patriot Act, and Section 215 in particular, noting how one federal judge has described it as “beyond Orwellian” in addition to questioning whether such legislation was actually constitutional.
The campaign also questions the effectiveness of Section 215 while attempting to debunk the notion that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.
The group’s web page quotes the White House’s own Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board which once let slip the fact that:
“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which [bulk collection under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act] made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”
Fight 215 confirms that Section 215 is due to end soon – on 1 June, 2015 – but urges concerned citizens to lobby the government to ensure that it is not reauthorized, suggesting that the FBI and NSA could, conceivably, use the law to enable further data collection, including the bulk grabbing of financial data and other business records.
If you feel strongly about Section 215 of the Patriot Act, you have a chance to do something about it – visit Fight 215 now.