"What we have done with the PATRIOT Act, we've given the government enormous powers. We've given the government the right to reach deeply into people's private lives, into their business affairs, without a court order."
Dennis Kucinich on Thursday, February 10th, 2011 in a speech in the House of Representatives
Rep. Dennis Kucinich critical over long reach of PATRIOT Act into American's lives
A vocal opponent of the PATRIOT Act since its passage nearly a decade ago, Rep. Dennis Kucinich has been in the thick of the discussion since Congress teetered on the brink of refusing to renew some key provisions.
With the help of Tea Party Republicans the Democratic minority in Congress did, indeed, preempt renewal when the vote went 277 to 148 for a nine-month extension of three key provisions. That was short of the two-thirds majority needed to keep the provisions alive through then end of the calendar year.
They came back Feb. 17 and voted for an extension for 90 days to allow further debate. And it passed.
Not surprisingly, Kucinich had many things to say, invoking among other things, "The Star Spangled Banner," the spirit of the First Amendment and bi-partisanship in defense of basic liberties.
From the floor of the House and in a Feb. 10 press release, he said:
"What we have done with the PATRIOT Act, we've given the government enormous powers. We've given the government the right to reach deeply into people's private lives, into their business affairs, without a court order. We need to think about that."
Given that the debate will soon be revived as the 90-day extension nears expiration, PolitiFact Ohio decided to take a look.
The House was debating extensions of three provisions that already expanded the government’s ability to keep an eye on us, and Kucinich rattled them off by the numbers, citing sections 206, 215 and 6001.
House Republicans posted the three sections online at the official GOP website. Their legislative digest didn’t quote Kucinich, but didn’t disagree with his reading of the provisions either.
"Business Records Provision (the So-Called "Library Provision"—Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act): This provision allows the FBI to apply to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court for an order granting access to tangible items—including books, records, papers, and other documents—in foreign intelligence, international terrorism and clandestine intelligence cases."
"Roving Wiretaps Provision (Section 206 of the PATRIOT Act): This provision authorizes FISA orders for multipoint or "roving" wiretaps for foreign intelligence investigations. A "roving" wiretap applies to an individual and allows the government to use a single wiretap order to cover any communications device that the suspect uses or may use."
"Lone Wolf Provision (Section 6001 of Intelligence Reform Act): This provision amends the definition of "agent of a foreign power" to include individual foreign terrorists who may not be directly affiliated with a foreign power or international terrorist organization. This provision would prevent terrorists who work on their own from escaping surveillance simply because they are not agents of a foreign power or avowed members of an international terrorist group. This provision ONLY applies to foreign terrorists or agents of a foreign power."
So do the extensions of these three provisions allow the government to reach more deeply into people’s lives?
Yes, though the third one, the Lone Wolf provision, only applies to "foreign terrorists or agents of a foreign power."
Language in Sections 215 and 206, two Kucinich specifically cited, enables federal investigators to gain access to things like library records, e-mails and financial papers and to wiretap multiple communications devices.
But can it be done without a court order, as the congressman said? Kucinich and other critics of provisions in the PATRIOT Act decry that the law allows for warrant-less searches. Federal law enforcement officials do not have to go the regular route to obtain court authorization to conduct searches and collect evidence. In those cases the court’s orders would ultimately become public.
The sections cited in the PATRIOT Act allow federal law enforcement to apply to a court for an order, but it’s through a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which operates very differently than other U.S. courts. In the case of these special courts, the proceedings are conducted behind closed doors and kept secret.
Kucinich is correct that the PATRIOT Act opens the door for government to conduct broad levels of surveillance into U.S. citizens’ lives and activities and that the surveillance can be without traditional law enforcement having to get the traditional warrant.
But the law does require an order from a court, albeit a special court that can do so secretly. That’s an important detail.
On the Truth-O-Meter, Kucinich’s claim rates as Half True.