Expanded Patriot Act Reach Would Hit The Net, Too
By Charles Farrar
WASHINGTON - A bill approved by Congress last week to extend the reach of the Patriot Act would expand the FBI's business document and transaction power to cyberspace stations like eBay, Internet logs, and Internet service providers, and without requiring a judge's approval.
It's part of the new bill's redefinition of the term "financial institution" and "financial transaction," according to Wired, and allows the FBI to get such records by handing itself a national security letter saying those records are relevant to a terrorism investigation.
"The FBI doesn't need to show probable cause or consult a judge," the magazine said. "What's more, the target institution is issued a gag order and kept from revealing the subpoena's existence to anyone, including the subject of the investigation."
This bill follows a stalled attempt earlier this year by the Justice Department to write and push the so-called "Patriot II" act, but a leak of the draft provoked such an outcry that the department backed away from that proposal, but Wired said the newly passed bill involves one of Patriot II's most controversial aspects.
According to Duke University law professor Chris Schroeder, that shows those who wanted to expand the FBI's powers didn't want to stop despite the hoopla over Patriot II. "They are going to insert these provisions on a stealth basis," Schroeder told Wired. "It's insidious." [Emphasis added. -v]
He has an ally in the Center for Democracy and Technology's executive director, James X. Dempsey. "On its face, it's a cryptic and seemingly innocuous amendment," he told the magazine. "It wasn't until after it passed both houses that we saw it. The FBI andd CIA like to try to graft things like this into intelligence bills."
But don't tell those things to House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-Florida), who calls the new definitions of financial institutions and financial transactions bringing them up to date "with the reality of the financial industry. This provision," Goss said in a House floor speech, "will allow those tracking terrorists and spies to 'follow the money' more effectively and thereby protect the people of the United States more effectively."
Protect them from what -- strip clubs? The current issue of Newsweek, which hit the stands Nov. 24, includes a report saying that a little-enough known Patriot Act portion already redefined "money laundering" to the point where the FBI is suspected of using it to investigate anyone it pleases on pretexts having little to do with terrorism investigations. [Emphasis added. -v]
A recent case nicknamed Operation G-String, in fact, found the FBI using the money laundering provision to investigate whether the owner of a Las Vegas adult club was trying to bribe top city officials. They used it to look at all the financial records of those officials, Newsweek said. And that isn't all, potentially.
"Treasury Department figures show that this year the Feds have used the Patriot Act to conduct searches on 962 suspects, yielding ‘hits’ on 6,397 financial records," the magazine said announcing the Nov. 24 issue. "Of those, two thirds (4,261) were in money-laundering cases with no terror connection. Among the agencies making requests, Newsweek has learned, were the IRS (which investigates tax fraud), the Postal Service (postal fraud) and the Secret Service (counterfeiting). One request came from the Agriculture Department -- a case that apparently involved food stamp fraud." [Emphasis added -v]
Source of reports on mis-use of new laws
Related article: "Are You A Patriot?" by John Kaminski