Section 215 of the Patriot Act - FOIA
Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain "any tangible thing" relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no showing that the "thing" pertains to suspected terrorists or terrorist activities. This provision is contrary to traditional notions of search and seizure, which require the government to show reasonable suspicion or probable cause before undertaking an investigation that infringes upon a person's privacy.
In the days before Congress was to vote to reauthorize several expiring provisions of the Patriot Act in May 2011, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee raised concerns about the way that the Justice Department has interpreted and used Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is perhaps the most controversial of the provisions that Congress reauthorized. "When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act," Colorado Senator Mark Udall said, "they will be stunned and they will be angry."
On May 31, 2011, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request demanding that the Justice Department release information about the government's use and interpretation of Section 215, and in October 2011 we filed a lawsuit to enforce the request. This isn't the first time we've sought information about the government's use of this provision. Back in 2002, we filed litigation under the Freedom of Information Act that eventually resulted in the release of a few hundred documents . But now the FBI is using Section 215 much more aggressively. It's using it more often. And statements by Obama administration officials raise the distinct possibility that the government is using the provision to support entire surveillance programs.
The secrecy surrounding the government's use of new surveillance powers is unwarranted and fundamentally antidemocratic. The public should know, at least in general terms, how the government interprets its surveillance authority and how that authority is being used. It's shameful that Congress didn't insist that the Obama administration release this information before the reauthorization vote. We've asked the courts to do what Congress failed to.
You can read more about Section 215 here.
(Please note, some of the Document Releases are supplied in a zip file, compressed format.)
The FOIA Request:
District Court Proceedings: