Patriot Act Debate Raises Question: How Much is the FBI Snooping?

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“Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out.” That was Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden on the Senate floor yesterday pushing — unsuccessfully — for Congress to scale back some domestic snooping provisions in the Patriot Act.

Wyden suggested that the government was abusing Section 215 of the law, which allows the FBI to obtain “tangible things” such as business records about customers.The New York Times’ Charlie Savage chronicles the debate today and his piece includes the following disturbing paragraph:

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said that the executive branch had come up with a secret legal theory about what it could collect under a provision of the Patriot Act that did not seem to dovetail with a plain reading of the text. “I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry,” Mr. Wyden said. He invoked the public’s reaction to the illegal domestic spying that came to light in the mid-1970s, the Iran-contra affair, and the Bush administration’s program of surveillance without warrants.