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From Bush to Obama, the snooping goes on

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05/29/2011 04:26 PM
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From Bush to Obama, the snooping goes on
The section 215 provision of the newly-extended Patriot Act gives the government extensive powers, which Democratic senators suggest is being used far beyond any legitimate anti-terror purpose. Photograph: Win Mcnamee/Getty Images
Remember section 215?

It was a notorious provision of the USA Patriot Act, renewed on Thursday, that allowed the government to snoop on what library books you'd borrowed, what videos you'd rented, your medical records – anything, really, if investigators thought it might have something to do with terrorism, no matter how tangential.

I wrote about it for the Boston Phoenix in 2003, as an example of the then budding excesses of the Bush-Cheney years.

Well, section 215 is back – not that it ever went away. Charlie Savage reports in Friday's New York Times that two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, have accused the Obama administration of using Section 215 for purposes not intended by Congress. Russ Feingold, then a Democratic senator for Wisconsin, raised similar alarms in 2009.

The senators know what the White House is up to because they were privy to secret testimony. But under Senate rules, they can't reveal what they learned. Thus they have demanded that the White House come clean with the public. "Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out," Udall is quoted as saying.


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