A leading Democratic senator accused the Justice Department on Wednesday of misleading the public on surveillance law, his latest salvo in a long-running campaign to force disclosure of what he terms “secret law” on how authorities collect information on Americans.
In a strongly worded letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) also for the first time directly links his “secret law” concerns to Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, a law passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks that greatly expanded U.S. authorities’ ability to collect intelligence in terrorism and foreign intelligence cases.
Section 215 allows the FBI to obtain business records or other “tangible things” as long as a court finds they are relevant to “an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” Section 215 orders may be used to obtain car and travel records, for instance, but the full scope of what can be obtained and how the data may be used has never been made clear.