Talk about good timing: Just as the Patriot Act is coming up for renewal, a federal appeals court has declared one of its key pieces to be illegal.
That would be the provision known as Section 215, which the National Security Agency has used to collect records of practically every call placed in the United States. It did so in secret until Edward Snowden blew the lid off that clambake in 2013 on his way into exile.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York held that such hoovering of personal data might be justified as a way to prevent terrorism. “But we would expect such a momentous decision to be preceded by substantial debate, and expressed in unmistakable language," the three-judge panel wrote. "Congress cannot reasonably be said to have ratified a program of which many members of Congress — and all members of the public — were not aware."
Lawmakers are having that debate now, and it's a polarizing one.
Two "lib" factions -- liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans -- want to let Section 215 expire. So does President Obama, who argues that telephone companies should be the ones holding onto these records, not the NSA.
On the other side are homeland security hawks in both parties, who argue that it would be foolish to stop the NSA from mining telephone metadata in search of well-hidden terrorist cabals. The most prominent figures in this group are the Senate's top Republicans.
The Wall Street Journal chimed in with a supportive editorial Friday, insisting that it's no invasion of privacy for the government to gather records from businesses about their customers. "No one who uses a smart phone, credit card, rewards program or search engine can honestly believe he isn't sharing data about personal behavior with third parties," the Journal wrote, as if people who use a Ralph's card have a reasonable expectation that the government will track their food and pharmacy purchases.
Where do you come down on the government sweeping up telephone metadata? Do you feel safer now that you know that Uncle Sam keeps exhaustive records of who's calling whom, and when they're doing it? Take our unscientific poll, leave a comment, or do both!
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