Internal emails reveal Obama advisers concerned over Patriot Act

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Internal emails between advisers to President Obama reveal long-standing concern over how the Patriot Act that would negatively affect law-abiding Americans.

Recent emails between Obama advisers Peter Swire and David Medine, unearthed by government watchdog organization Judicial Watch on Monday through a Freedom of Information Act request filed Aug. 28, 2013, revealed that Swire was concerned about a broad interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act in 2004.

Medine asked in a July 25 email to Swire about a 2004 paper Swire wrote predicting that a literal interpretation of the provision would permit entire databases to be subject to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) order.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, also called the “business records” section, requires that a company ordered by the federal government under Section 215 authorities provide investigators with “any tangible things.”

The order includes “books, records, papers, documents, and other items” for foreign intelligence or terrorism investigations.

Swire, the former special assistant to Obama, helped draft the Patriot Act and is currently a member of the Obama administration’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies. Medine is the chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Swire explained to Medine that during the drafting of the Patriot Act, he criticized provisions that of the bill that would have granted the CIA access “to essentially any records held elsewhere in the government.”

Swire had also criticized a criminal provision of the bill that could have “put low-level IT managers in jail for ten years if a terrorist used their system or something like that,” he said.

Two days later, on July 27, Swire wrote to Medine again expressing regret over the pessimism he exhibited over how Section 215 would be interpreted.

“As written, the article makes it harder to say we are shocked today that 215 would be read so broadly,” wrote Swire.

“The 2004 view of that law professor seems broadly consistent with the reading they used later to justify the phone records program,” he said.

Despite Obama’s expressed confidence in the National Security Agency’s legal interpretation of the Patriot Act in the wake of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures about government spying, the emails suggest that several of Obama’s advisers are not in agreement with him.

“These emails suggest that those with concerns about NSA surveillance now include advisers to President Obama,” said Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton in a statement regarding the emails.

“And the emails seem to confirm that the Patriot Act specifically authorized the very type of ‘data mining’ that is now causing so much controversy,” said Fitton.

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