Senator: "The 'real' Patriot Act is classified"

Senator: "The 'real' Patriot Act is classified"

Summary: The 'real' Patriot Act is classified, and the law is reinterpreted by the US Department of Justice, the FBI and other law enforcement, according to a US senator.


The Patriot Act has been extended with hours to spare, and will soon be signed electronically by President Obama, who is currently at the G8 conference in Paris, France.

But the vast majority of those who voted to extend the bill may not know the full extent to which the powers are being used -- and abused -- by government authorities.

The classified interpretations of how the Patriot Act can be used to access wide-ranging "dragnets" -- as Wired described -- to collect vast quantities of information on citizens outside the perceived breadth of the law.

While the law says one thing, certain government departments have reinterpreted the Patriot Act for their own benefit.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said that, while under official secrecy legislation he could not disclose the full classified interpretations; the government is operating on a far wider range of what is written in law.

"We’re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says," Wyden said.

As a member of the Senate intelligence committee, he is privy to the full interpretation of the Patriot Act by government agencies, like the U.S. Department of Justice; but is unable to disclose it publicly.

Wyden, along with three other Democratic senators, have been promised the right to hear the "expansive Justice Department interpretation of the information collection the Patriot Act allows".

An amendment offered by Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado), which would have forced the Attorney General into disclosing publicly the government departments' interpretation of the Act, however, was withdrawn after the hearing of the interpretation was allowed.

One of the key issues in the Patriot Act, that seems to be the crux of the problem for Wyden, is the effect it has on businesses, clinics and medical facilities and private enterprises -- including banks and universities.

According to Wired:

"Surveillance under the business-records provisions has recently spiked. The Justice Department's official disclosure on its use of the Patriot Act, delivered to Congress in April, reported that the government asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for approval to collect business records 96 times in 2010 — up from just 21 requests the year before.

The court didn't reject a single request. But it "modified" those requests 43 times, indicating to some Patriot-watchers that a broadening of the provision is underway."

Though it is unclear in what form these reinterpretations of the powers take, one can guess that it goes above and beyond the legal framework set out by the language in the Patriot Act, to levels almost unfathomable.

Udall said in a statement, regarding the government's unfettered access to bulk citizen data like "a cellphone company's phone records", could indicate the very breadth of how far this interpretation could go.

If so, an entire customer base of a cell network provider -- like T-Mobile, Verizon or Sprint, for example --could be collected by U.S. authorities for widespread data mining. Currently, the perception is that law enforcement would would have to separately apply to the FISA court for each individuals' data.

Europe is not exempt from these powers either, as previously discovered in ZDNet's USA PATRIOT Act series. The series details in minute detail how the US government can invoke the Patriot Act to request wholly owned subsidiaries of U.S.-based companies to hand over European data, as well as from further afield, for inspection by U.S. authorities.

If this is the case, then the Patriot Act that will shortly be signed back into law and extended, and will have further wide-ranging consequences for those home and abroad.

Related content:


Topics: Government US, Government

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • What do you think?

    Should it be made public; the 'reinterpretation' of the Patriot Act by government law enforcement agencies? Should the Patriot Act have been extended at all? <b>Have your say.</b>
    • RE: Senator:


      The last refuge of the scoundrel.

      It's interesting that a number of TV shows/films routinely use the Patriot Act to cover obvious civil rights violations and use the threat of it to extort confessions. It appears police state powers are acceptable in the US.
    • ALL of my legislators voted Yes.

      @zwhittaker - Including my "Tea Party" representative who campaigned as being against the Patriot Act in 2010. In the US, the "power of the people" has been firmly quashed by an obscene combination of authoritarianism and voter apathy. The trend will not reverse itself in my lifetime, and it's likely that it will get much worse before it gets any better.
      terry flores
    • RE: Senator:

      A recent article on a boy in WA who was interrogated by the Secret Service for a FB post focused on the fact that the boy was interrogated without his mother being present. The article did not even mention the concern of how the Secret Service came to know of the FB post. Are all our FB posts filtered by the Secret Service?
      • RE: Senator:

        kinda strange, I had a medical incident 2 weeks ago, posted NO details anywhere except for a couple of emails. No doctors/ambulance/etc were called. I host my own mail server. Some how sponsored ads for trial treatments for what I experienced began appearing on my facebook page, can anyone explain that.
      • Senator

        @chadzing <br>FB is just cia front to gather personal info, watch your posts!
      • RE: Senator:

        @chadzing From what I understand, it was sent to someone in the Government, or sent to Obama's Facebook page or something. It wasn't a private post at all, and I believe it was directed to the White House.
    • RE: Senator:

      I think that Senator Leahy should have had his amendment addressed rather than the extension rushed through Congress. They included important safeguards of American civil liberties.

      Beyond that, I think that the dumbing down of American citizens, and that includes immigrants who don't give a rat's ass about our politics anyway - they're just here for the money and govt handouts - is fairly complete.

      I think Americans need a wake up call, so I find it would be quite interesting if China called in its loans and then asked for ownership when we can't pay up. I wonder what the dumber-than-a-cow residents here would do, then. If we're so quick to give up our civil liberties, then we may as well go all the way. United States of Communist China. Has a nice ring, doesn't it?
      • new name


        I think United States of Communist Corporations would be more accurate...
    • RE: Senator:


      I work in an Information Security Management position for a Fortune 500 company. I regularly interface with security professionals from companies outside of the US. This law not only affects American's privacy, but routinely affects US companies' abilities to conduct business internationally. I routinely have to convince non-US companies that their data is safe, yet I can't with 100% certainty, since I would be powerless to stop a Government request for data. The PATRIOT ACT has caused so many people outside of the US to fear doing business with American companies.
  • RE: Senator:

    I don't see how the government can interpret a law they wrote differently than what is written. If the law is that vague, than it needs to be dropped. If the government is reinterpreting the law than it needs to be made public. I don't see how that's even legal. How can a law be classified? If that is the case than a law that takes away our free speech could be classified and we wouldn't know it until 4 men in black suits haul us away.
    • RE: Senator:

      @KBot Yea I don't agree on laws being classified. If they try me for a law that is classified, I'll take that to court justifying my actions by asking how can they expect for me to follow the law when they specifically hide the law from me?
      • law

        @vel0city Ignorance of the law no excuse even if you do not know. Secret law secret Cort no public hearing.
    • Why would the government be any different?

      @KBot ... think about it... private lawyers have "interpreted" the written law about 100 different ways over the last 250 years, and our government just decided to jump on the bandwagon. There are numerous examples throughout history of how this has had tragic consequences.... look at "Krystall Nacht" in Germany and Japanese Internment right here, look at how our own Government decided to use the term "detainees" instead of POWs. I mean, talk about INTERPRETATION. Only 3 trials after 10 years? Has anyone seen the movie Papilion? Makes you hate the French. I wonder what the movie "GITMO" is going to do for American sentiments.

      My favorite interpretation: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

      Don't get me started on that one.
      • I fear for your safety!

        It is a sad commentary on the state of our nation when a direct quote from the Constitution can be 'reinterpreted' as to be seen as radical and threatening to the state. I hope rock06r doesn't get a late-night visit from the government thugs who hide in the shadows behind the patriot act!
  • That's what courts are for

    The President, DOJ, and any number of executive branch agencies can interpret the law however they think proper and even keep their interpretation secret, but that interpretation isn't binding on Congress, the courts, or private citizens. And even the most deferential federal judges are likely to be extremely unsympathetic if a DOJ lawyer pleads state secrets when asked to explain why a particular government action is legal.
    John L. Ries
    • You are out of touch with current policy

      @John L. Ries - Federal judges are extremely pliable today, for several reasons: the vast majority are former prosecutors with sympathetic tendencies, they are all overbooked and have little time for in-depth review, and they take their cues from appellate courts who have routinely allowed the federal government wide latitude.

      Finally, you miss the most important point: no judge can overrule what is never presented in his court. Mass collection of data is never revealed, never disclosed, and never challenged. How can it be?
      terry flores
    • RE: Senator:

      @John L. Ries Part of the problem with the Patriot Act is that if you are classified as a "terrorist" you don't even get to go to court. No trial. So no one can do anything. Doesn't matter if it's legal or not.
    • But in the meantime...

      @John L. Ries the case twists and turns through our court system, the government has the ability to pretty much do whatever they please. Come on, wake up. The last time they made a "final, binding" decision was before 9-11-2001?!?! Look at GITMO. 3 Trials in 10 years. Shameful.
  • RE: Senator:

    Secret interpretations of a law is the same as secret laws. I thought the US was a democrocy? or did they reinterpet that as well?. it seams to me that democrocy is politicaly correct but no longer supported by the very governments that claim to support (and be) democrocies. The way governments opperate these days is more like the governments that are openly dictatorships etc operate. democracy is dead, people are complacent, as long as the government says "We are a democrocy" people will believe it and do nothing.