Not surprising given recent revelations about the NSA, but as Michael Isikoff points out, the massive increase in requests for business records by the FBI under a provision in the Patriot Act, represents a sea change in the government's attitude toward privacy.
The FBI has dramatically increased its use of a controversial provision of the Patriot Act to secretly obtain a vast store of business records of U.S. citizens under President Barack Obama, according to recent Justice Department reports to Congress. The bureau filed 212 requests for such data to a national security court last year - a 1,000-percent increase from the number of such requests four years earlier, the reports show.
The FBI's increased use of the Patriot Act's "business records" provision - and the wide ranging scope of its requests -- is getting new scrutiny in light of last week's disclosure that that the provision was used to obtain a top-secret national security order requiring telecommunications companies to turn over records of millions of telephone calls.
Taken together, experts say, those revelations show the government has broadly interpreted the Patriot Act provision as enabling it to collect data not just on specific individuals, but on millions of Americans with no suspected terrorist connections. And it shows that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court accepted that broad interpretation of the law.
"That they were using this (provision) to do mass collection of data is definitely the biggest surprise," said Robert Chesney, a top national security lawyer at the University of Texas Law School. "Most people who followed this closely were not aware they were doing this. We've gone from producing records for a particular investigation to the production of all records for a massive pre-collection database. It's incredibly sweeping."
The Justice Department and FBI did not respond to requests for comment. But in a recent interview with NBC News, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper dismissed the idea that the records were being used to spy on innocent Americans. "The notion that we're trolling through everyone's emails and voyeuristically reading them, or listening to everyone's phone calls is, on its face, absurd," he said. "We couldn't do that even if we wanted to."
Clapper is really starting to annoy me. He actually began to annoy me when he testified before Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood was "moderate." But now, he is really pissing me off. Note his dismissal of criticism. No one except paranoid loons are saying the NSA or FBI are "trolling through everyone's emails" and "reading them." And only the uninformed believe that the government is "listening to everyone's phone calls." Clapper is being disingenuous and he knows it. That's not the specific criticism about the phone record surveillance program or the internet snooping program PRISM. It is the egregious violation of privacy - of government looking at our records without our knowledge or consent. And those programs represent the potential for government to be far more intrusive than these programs would suggest.
Time to look a little more closely at the Patriot Act and amend it or scrap it altogether. If government is going to use parts of the act to violate our privacy and threaten our liberties, changes are in order.