The FBI’s use of a controversial Patriot Act provision to demand business records has skyrocketed more than 1,000 percent under President Barack Obama versus his Republican predecessor George W. Bush, according to a report by NBC News.
The so-called business records provision of the Patriot Act, titled Section 215, is the justification used for the NSA’s massive PRISM intercept program that sucks up nearly all domestic communications and stores them for future reference. A single Section 215 order was behind last week’s revelation that Verizon is cooperating with the NSA and handing over millions of phone call records daily.
Altogether, the FBI approached the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) court to approve business records requests 212 times in 2012, reporter Michael Isikoff learned. He notes that figure also represents a 1,000 percent increase from the number of requests filed just four years earlier by members of the Bush administration.
Companies that receive demands for business records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act are also subject to a secret gag order, forbidding them from even disclosing that records were divulged. Isikof noted that FBI Director Robert Muller told Congress in 2011 the bureau began relying more heavily on Section 215 requests in 2010, when certain telecommunications firms started refusing to honor the bureau’s National Security Letters (NSLs), another provision of the Patriot Act that carries a gag order similar to Section 215.
One such company is Google, which challenged an NSL in court earlier this year. The Internet company’s chief legal officer said Tuesday in a letter to top Obama administration officials that Google wants to disclose information on the number of NSLs the government has sent it and how broadly those information requests were applied.
Although initially a critic of the sweeping new spy powers awarded to the government by the Patriot Act, President Barack Obama has not voiced any substantive interest in reforming the surveillance state since taking the nation’s highest office. Even in the wake of recent revelations about the NSA, the administration has simply said Obama “welcomes” the debate.
[Stock photo: Spy with his lips sealed, via Shutterstock.]