Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Julia Turner ask whether we should be afraid of the Patriot Act in a four part series. Part 1, examinging Section 215, aka “Attack of the Angry Librarians,” is up now.

Section 215 modifies the rules on records searches. Post-Patriot Act, third-party holders of your financial, library, travel, video rental, phone, medical, church, synagogue, and mosque records can be searched without your knowledge or consent, providing the government says it’s trying to protect against terrorism.

Frankly, this seems reasonable enough. What I don’t get is why they can’t simply obtain a warrant for this purpose? Judicial oversight would be a very minor impediment to the government, given that these records aren’t going anywhere.

When asked by the House Committee on the Judiciary to detail whether and how many times Section 215 has been used “to obtain records from a public library, bookstore, or newspaper,” the DOJ said it would send classified answers to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The judiciary committee had what it called “reasonable limited access” to those responses, and it reported in October 2002 that its review had “not given any rise to concern that the authority is being misused or abused.”

This is encouraging. But why not issue a public report, omitting whatever details are necessary to protect both intelligence “sources and methods” and the privacy of those concerned?

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Terrorism, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steven says:

    I thought that it was the case that they still needed a warrant, but the PA issue is whether or not you can find out they did it. I am not sufficiently versed in the law, however, to fully confirm that impression.

  2. JohnC says:

    I’m simply stunned at this. Don’t you guys read FindLaw? 🙂 Please see this.

  3. Dave says:

    Seems to me, while reading that first page, they’re doing a hell of a lot of editorializing with prejudicial ways of stating it instead of bald facts.

    (My other impression is that they believe themselves to be giving an unbiased -report-, as opposed to op-ed)