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The PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 Must be Reformed

Laura W. Murphy,
Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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June 14, 2013

The following remarks were given by Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, at Sen. Rand Paul’s press conference yesterday announcing his intention to sue the government to stop NSA surveillance of Americans’ communications.

Last week, the Guardian reported something extraordinary. The National Security Agency is routinely collecting all of your phone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. They know who calls whom, when, for how long and from where. There’s no more debate about whether the government is spying on Americans; the only question is how we can stop it.

Along with a motion seeking the legal opinions purporting to justify this blanket surveillance, the ACLU filed a constitutional claim on its own behalf against the call records program. We believe the program is a violation of our rights to free speech and free association. Because of the sensitivity of the issues we work on, many of the people who call us—potential clients, government whistleblowers, and even members of Congress—want that call to stay secret. Under the government’s dragnet surveillance, those calls can no longer remain confidential.

(For the latest on the ACLU’s work to rein in the surveillance state, click here.)

The ACLU’s suit is an important first step, but it’s crucial that Congress finally take on Section 215 in earnest. The days of closed-door briefings and secret court orders must end. Congress must force public disclosure about what information the government is collecting, and what’s being done with it. The Administration and the secret FISA Court will continue this spying if Congress doesn’t stop them.

Let me leave you with this. Section 215 goes beyond phone records. The government believes it can sweep up records on your taxes, what books you read, your medical and educational history, and even on your firearms purchases. There’s no reason to believe these are not also being collected right now.

The government does not have the right to spy on you without some indication you’ve done something wrong. Section 215 has turned that basic and essential truth of our democracy on its head, and must finally be reformed.

Follow Laura Murphy on Twitter: @lwmurphy

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