“I believe that there is a discrepancy between what most Americans believe is legal and what the government is actually doing under the Patriot Act,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in a statement last week on the Senate floor regarding reform of the Patriot Act.
“In my view, any discrepancy of this sort is intolerable and untenable, and can only be fixed by greater transparency and openness.”
“Most members of the public do not expect to have detailed information about how intelligence collection is actually conducted,” Sen. Wyden said, “but they do expect to understand the boundaries of what the law does and does not allow, so that they can ratify or reject the decisions that public officials make on their behalf.”
Under present circumstances, Sen. Wyden said, Americans do not have an accurate perception of what the Patriot Act permits and how it is being used and, he said on Thursday, this is unacceptable.
“There is key information that is relevant to the debate on the Patriot Act that is currently classified. Over the past two and a half years, I have pressed the executive branch to declassify this information in a responsible way, so that members of Congress and the public can have an informed debate about what the law should actually be.”
In partial response, he said, the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence have produced a classified account of the use of the Patriot Act that any member of Congress can now read in the intelligence committees’ secure offices.
“But by itself this step does not go nearly far enough,” he said. “It is just as essential for the public to have this information as well.”
Among other things, Sen. Wyden noted that the so-called “business records” provision of the Patriot Act (Section 215) actually applies to collection of “any tangible thing,” which means that “it covers things like blood or tissue samples as well.”