'It's Almost As If There Are Two PATRIOT Acts'

Last week Mike Riggs noted Ron Wyden's warnings about the Obama administration's "secret interpretation" of the PATRIOT Act, which he said undermines democracy, the rule of law, and ultimately the public's support for anti-terrorism efforts. Here is some of what Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who serves on  the Senate Intelligence Committee, had to say on the subject in a floor speech on Thursday:

When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.  And they will be asking senators, "Did you know what this law actually permits?"  "Why didn't you know before you voted on it?" The fact is that anyone can read the plain text of the PATRIOT Act, and yet many members of Congress have no idea how the law is being secretly interpreted by the executive branch, because that interpretation is classified. 

It's almost as if there are two Patriot Acts, and many members of Congress haven't even read the one that matters. Our constituents, of course, are totally in the dark. Members of the public have no access to the executive branch's secret legal interpretations, so they have no idea what their government thinks this law means....

While Americans recognize that government agencies will sometimes rely on secret sources and methods to collect intelligence information, Americans also expect that these agencies will operate at all times within the boundaries of publicly understood law.

I have served on the Senate Intelligence Committee for ten years, and I don't take a backseat to anybody when it comes to the importance of protecting genuinely sensitive sources and collection methods. But the law itself should never be secret—voters have a need and a right to know what the law says, and what their government thinks the text of the law means, so that they can decide whether the law is appropriately written and ratify or reject decisions that their elected officials make on their behalf....

Government officials must not be allowed to fall into the trap of secretly reinterpreting the law in a way that creates a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the government secretly claims that it says....When the public eventually finds out that government agencies have been rewriting surveillance laws in secret, the result is invariably a backlash and an erosion of public confidence in these government agencies. 

Wyden likened the Obama administration's classified understanding of the PATRIOT Act to Harry Truman's telegram-intercepting Project Shamrock, the CIA's domestic spying, the Reagan administration's Iran-contra scandal, and the Bush administration's secret approval of warrantless wiretaps. But what exactly does this twisting of the PATRIOT Act entail? Wyden can't say, because it's classified. (Duh!) But Cato Institute privacy specialist (and Reason contributing editor) Julian Sanchez argues, based on clues going back to comments that two other senators, Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), made more than a year ago, that the shocking secret probably has something to do with mass collection and analysis of cell phone geolocation data under Section 215 of the law.

Look for my column tomorrow about the rush to renew the PATRIOT Act.

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  • prolefeed||

    Every now and then some Democratic politicians are good about things Democrats claim to be good at, but usually aren't.

    Kudos to Wyden for this.

  • P B||

    Not so much, he voted for cloture.

    http://www.votesmart.org/votin.....4&go;.y=13

  • ||

    Although that was the May 23rd cloture on the "might still be able to be amended" version. He was a no on the May 26th "cloture with only the two least likely amendments allowed" cloture vote.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You let the people know directly what they can no longer do permissibly under the Patriot Act and the terrorists win.

  • Rich||

    Uh, ... Win!

  • Harold Camping||

    anyone can read the plain text of the PATRIOT Act, and yet many members of Congress have no idea how the law is being secretly interpreted by the executive branch, because that interpretation is classified.

    Hell, even I tell you my interpretation of the Bible's plain text.

    Fuckers.

  • ||

    I'm thinking they are also interpreting the first amendment to mean "no dancing at the TJM - in a group, anyway." Of course, that's classified as well, so we don't know about it until we get proned by some bicycle cops looking to get their baton wet. And I'm sure there are a zillion other examples.

  • ||

    Good for him. Most Americans have no clue about how horrible this president is on civil liberties (and every other issue). I can't think of a single damn positive thing he's done, other than to help get rid of dont-ask-dont-tell.

  • Name Nomad||

    If by "help" you mean "after-gay-Republicans-forced-the-issue-not-fight-as-hard-as-he-possibly-could-against," then I agree with you.

  • Barack Obama||

    Most Americans have no clue about how horrible this president is on civil liberties

    Let me be clear.

    Then I am doing my job well.

  • ||

    At least he's transparent.

  • ||

    So transparent that much of the time he's hardly there at all.

  • ||

    It's like he's invisible or something.

  • Res Publica Americana||

    In the dark. LOL.

  • ||

    It's almost as if the government doesn't give a shit about the law or the constitution.

  • ||

    It's a government of the people. The people don't really give a shit either.

  • Jim||

    Giving a shit requires effort. It may entail getting off the couch. In some extreme circumstances, one might also have to read a book.

    Why are you trying to read so hard? What are you, a fag?

  • ||

    I don't ride a Harley! Really!

  • skr||

    There's that fag talk again.

  • Nancy Pelosi||

    Cato Link: while intelligence operations must remain secret, a free and democratic society is not supposed to be governed by secret laws

    Show me where in the Constitution!

  • ||

    Their using cellphone geolocation? That's it! I'm ditching my cell phone and going back to ESP communication, and my first message will go to the White House:

    "Dear Mr. President; I'm thinking of a finger..."

  • Jerry||

    Why not use a satellite phone instead?

  • Brian E||

    I hope he can see this, because I'm thinking it as hard as I can.

  • Virginia||

    But the law itself should never be secret—voters have a need and a right to know what the law says, and what their government thinks the text of the law means

    So fucking tell us already!

    I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

  • ||

    He can't. It's illegal for him to tell us that.

    Seriously.

  • TRTB||

    And that's the ONE law that there would actually be consequences for violating.

  • prolefeed||

    It's not illegal if it's unconstitutional. Having secret interpretations of laws that no one is allowed to know about or discuss is a violation of at least the 1st and 10th amendments.

    Disclose it, and dare the government to try to press charges.

  • Obamatron||

    What are these "charges" of which you speak?

    Leakers will be held incommunicado unit they have learned sufficient helplessness.

    And the Supreme court said I can get away with it no matter how egregious it may be!

  • cynical||

    Sure, you'll imprison a fellow party member and Congressman and prompt a constitutional crisis shortly before your re-election bid.

  • SIV||

    He's a fucking statist...what do you expect.

  • CatoTheElder||

    He has Bradley Manning as an example of what happens when one leaks some highly classified information.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    While Americans recognize that government agencies will sometimes rely on secret sources and methods to collect intelligence information, Americans also expect that these agencies will operate at all times within the boundaries of publicly understood law.

    Oh yeah, baby...I love it when you lie to me.

  • ||

    "'that the shocking secret probably has something to do with mass collection and analysis of cell phone geolocation data under Section 215 of the law.""

    If it comes down to government mass collection versus your iPhone, government collection it is.

  • ChrisO||

    A "secret legal interpretation" is something so asinine, only the U.S. government could have dreamed it up. Since it's secret, there's no legal challenge to be had against it. It's like putting a fig leaf on a statue that no one else gets to see.

    The government might as well just go to the next step and not bother trying to justify its actions at all.

  • ||

    Why do you hate freedom?

  • Jim||

    I'd say something about starting a you-know-what, but there's probably secret service reading this.

  • 0x90||

    A conversation? A nonprofit? A conga line?

  • SIV||

    A paintball team?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    So that there law doesn't say what I think it says, it means something completely different that only the enlightened could possibly know -- "the enlightened" in this case conveniently being those who benefit the most from an expansive interpretation firmly in their hands.

    To all the liberals out there: isn't this exactly the sort of concentration of power that you guys ostensibly oppose? If so, why don't you oppose the similar accumulation of economic power in DC for similar reasons?

  • Chinny Chin Chin||

    I want give Wyden credit for making this speech. I really do.

    "Secret interpretation" is a serious step in the wrong direction for a government for the people, by the etc. etc. etc.

    However, Wyden's view of the ultimate consequences of such shenanigans have nothing to do with the integrity of law, nor the Constitution. No, he's worried about "backlash and an erosion of public confidence".

    I'm more motivated to give him the finger than a thumbs-up.

  • TRTB||

    The good lord gave you two hands for a reason.

  • ||

    It's almost as if we're DOOOOOOOOOOOMED.

  • ||

    No, he's worried about "backlash and an erosion of public confidence".

    If the backlash involved torches, pitchforks, tar, and feathers, I would be okay with it.

  • CE||

    It's almost as if there are two Patriot Acts, and many members of Congress haven't even read the one that matters.

    They didn't read the other one, either, when both parties overwhelmingly voted to approve it the first time.

  • CE||

    Americans also expect that these agencies will operate at all times within the boundaries of publicly understood law.

    But the President ignoring the plain language of the War Powers Act is cool?

  • J[o]h[nn]y L[o][n]gt[o]rs[o]||

    Bullshit. You start talking about the "plain language" of the Patriot Act, and soon enough you'll be talking about the so called plain language of the constitution, thus proving you're a militia nutcase who wants grandma to starve.

    The law says what the govt says it says. Period. Anything else and you want racists to resegregate lunch counters.

  • Almanian||

    What Johnny said!

  • ||

    And make the country like Somalia. Do you want to live in Somalia? And roads, don't forget about roads!!

  • Obama the Jaunty Campaigner||

    Clearly I support the fluidity of being able to react to any possible situation to protect folks from international and domestic terrorists...

  • Almanian||

    So this is a "kinetic" Patriot Act, moving as required to support whatever Our Betters determine We (The People™) need at a given time?

    Seriously, how could anyone be against THAT? No, seriously. Really.

  • ||

    It's almost as if there are two Patriot Acts, and many members of Congress haven't even read the one that matters.

    I'd be extremely surprised if any member of Congress has read either one.

  • ||

    This sounds horrible, but step back for a minute. What effect does a "secret govt interpretation" actually have by itself? None, really. There's only a meaningful difference if govt starts prosecuting people under the "secret interpretation", in which case that interpretation is going to have to be brought into public view.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Well, lets see...

    * They're going to violate the constitution even more than without it, and never hear a word against it 'cause they haven't told us what they are up to. Which will no doubt give them a warm, fuzzy certainty that the people are with them.
    * They're going to go on issuing letter de cachetNational Security Letters which forbid the recipient from talking about the action no matter how egregiously abusive it may be.
    * Some poor bastard is going to have to get to be arrested and held (i.e. deprived of his rights under color of law) before it could even see the inside of a courtroom at which time the bastards will attempt to invoke executive privilege and/or national security to continue to prevent it from being a matter of public debate. [[ And at this point the thread on Korematsu suddenly looks even more relevant. ]]
    * And given that the courts have found that it is OK to prevent someone from flying on the basis of rules they are not allowed to know about, there is a real chance that the berobed twats won't see anything wrong with this.
    * And if by some chance they decide that this is maybe, just a little, over the top, and not quite Kosher our arrested hero won't actually be able to bring anyone to account. Because the action wasn't "clearly established as illegal beforehand".

    Need I go on?

  • Bradley||

    Let's face it: whatever they end up doing under this "secret" interpretation of the PATRIOT Act, they were probably going to do regardless.

  • ||

    Doubletalk
    doublethink
    doubletrouble

    Its what big brother Obama is good at.

  • ||

    I know! Can you believe what this country has come to? Not too long ago, I heard a US Senator call for the jailing of people who attended political speeches!

    "But if someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that’s really an offense that we should be going after — they should be deported or put in prison."

    In this case, I won't hold my breath waiting for Reason's glibertarian outcry. Because the Senator was one of Reason's main ad customers: noted toupee enthusiast and fucking creep Rand Paul.

    In order to reach the all-important "fucking creep" demographic, Rand buys lots of ad banner space at Reason, you know, just another participant expressing enlightened self-interest in the free market for advertising. And we all know what the "free market" means: free to ignore whatever resultant victimizations or inconsistencies you care to.

    http://thinkprogress.org/polit.....ze-speech/

    Ha ha.

  • CatoTheElder||

    "the result is invariably ... an erosion of public confidence in these government agencies"

    Is there any public confidence left to erode away?

    Seriously. Does anybody really have any confidence that any agency of the USG any longer feels in any way constrained by any law?

  • John Ashcroft||

    Treason. Treason, I say:

    "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this, your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and ... give ammunition to American’s enemies."

  • ||

    Aren't Congress critters immune from prosecution for anything they say on the floor of Congress? If I am not mistaken Goldwater read the entire, then secret, Vietnam ROE into the Senate record back into the 1980s. If Weiden thinks this is bad and knows what it is, all he has to do is go to the House floor and read it aloud. He is immune from prosecution.

    Why doesn't he? Until he does, my guess is that it is because he values partisan politics more than the Constitution and doesn't want to embarrass the Obamasiah.

  • Res Publica Americana||

    The PATRIOT Act directly and radically vitiates the Bill of Rights. Our government is eviscerating the very Constitution that established it and granted it legitimacy. How fucked up is that? When will the insurrections begin already?

  • ||

    When I emailed my representitive Joe Barton this is what his office had to say.

    "The PATRIOT Act was enacted following the September 11th attacks, to combat the growing threat of terrorism. I have supported this legislation, and its subsequent reauthorizations. While not every law is perfect, this law has been effective in protecting American lives, and preventing future attacks."

    The phrase that pays here is "While not every law is perfect". That's his reasoning for voting against the Constitution he swore to uphold.

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