The senate has voted on a reauthorization of the Patriot Act which has expanded the surveillance powers of the American government. The FBI can now gain access to your browsing history without a warrant. Critics are worried that the FBI has gained too much power.
The name Patriot Act is an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The law was first passed after the attacks on 9/11, replacing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Patriot Act allows American intelligence services to wiretap civilians and suspects of terrorism home and abroad. It doesn’t just cover American citizens, but also people living in other countries.
The government is allowed to listen in on communication whenever they suspect terrorism. And the information that is collected can be shared with other governments. But this is not the only thing that is done under the Patriot Act. The strict border control is part of it as well, including all the money that is set aside for that. Victims of terrorism are given compensation under the act, and money laundering and smuggling are sentenced more severely. Crimes like an attack on public transport, hacking computers, and supporting terrorism (financially or ideologically) are all considered terrorism according to the act.
Also part of the Patriot Act is the impact of a National Security Letter (NSL). The NSL is a subpoena forcing a company to hand over secure information about their clients to the government. The government does not need a court order to do this. The company that is subpoenaed cannot tell their clients. They risk imprisonment for the support of terrorism if they do. Any company operating under the American flag can be subpoenaed, even when it’s not located on American soil. So, for instance, the Google offices in Dublin could receive an NSL as well.
One Vote Short
The Patriot Act gives the American intelligence services a lot of authorization concerning the monitoring of terrorism suspects. And they were given even more rights last week. The American Senate voted for the expansion of the Patriot Act, which allows the FBI to view citizens’ browser history without a warrant. They no longer have to get a court order to do so, thus removing an obstacle to stop government surveillance.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnel introduced the expansion of the Patriot Act. Senators Ron Wyden (D, OR) and Steve Daines (R, MT) tried to remove this expansion with a bipartisan amendment. But there was not enough support for the amendment in the end. Sadly, several senators who would have voted in favor of the amendment failed to show up. A group of nine Democrats voted against the amendment as well. So they didn’t have the votes to block McConnel’s expansion, only missing one vote.
The expansion of the Patriot act causes many activists to speak up. They are afraid that the government is giving the intelligence agencies too much power. Privacy isn’t valued at all under the Patriot Act and now the situation is worse. Also, the expansion of the act comes at a time when internet use is at a peak. Privacy is an issue that is back in the spotlight worldwide because of the corona pandemic.
Privacy activists fear that the government can do whatever they want to people who are suspected to be a threat, now that they can just look at anyone’s browser history without a court order. “The Patriot Act should be repealed in its entirety, set on fire and buried in the ground,” Evan Greer, the deputy director of Fight for the Future, said. “It’s one of the worst laws passed in the last century, and there is zero evidence that the mass surveillance programs it enables have ever saved a single human life”.
Dayton Young, one of Greer’s colleagues, adds that “the Senate made clear that the purpose of the Patriot Act is to spy on Americans, no warrants or due process necessary. Any lawmaker who votes to reauthorize the Patriot Act is voting against our constitutionally-protected freedoms, and there’s nothing patriotic about that”.