The EFF Looks at the Three Most Dangerous Provisions of the PATRIOT Act

To celebrate 10 years of tyranny under the USA PATRIOT Act the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has posted an article that looks into the three most dangerous provisions of this blatant power grab of legislation:


Under this provision, the FBI can obtain secret court orders for business records and other “tangible things” so long as the FBI says that the records are sought “for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must issue the order if the FBI so certifies, even when there are no facts to back it up. These “things” can include basically anything—driver’s license records, hotel records, car-rental records, apartment-leasing records, credit card records, books, documents, Internet history, and more. Adding insult to injury, Section 215 orders come with a “gag ” prohibiting the recipient from telling anyone, ever, that they received one.

It’s always nice when the federal government can go on a fishing expedition without even having so much as factual evidence to back up their accusation. The most egregious part of Section 215 though is that those who are targeted with the order to provide evidence are forbidden from ever telling anybody.


Among the most used — and outright frightening — provisions in the PATRIOT Act are those that enhanced so-called National Security Letters (NSLs). The FBI can issue NSLs itself, without a court order, and demand a variety of records, from phone records to bank account information to Internet activity. As with 215 orders, recipients are gagged from revealing the orders to anyone.

This is another piece of the PATRIOT Act that allows the federal government to obtain personal information and gag the information provider. When the federal government wants information about you they can issue a National Security Letter, have the information provided to them, and prevent the provider from informing you that the information was handed over. For instance if the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) want any e-mail messages received by or sent from to your GMail account Google would have to provide them but would be prohibited from informing you that government agents demanded the data.


Section 213 of the PATRIOT Act normalized “sneak-and-peek” warrants. These allow law enforcement to raid a suspect’s house without notifying the recipient of the seizure for months. These orders usually don’t authorize the government to actually seize any property — but that won’t stop them from poking around your computers. Again, sneak-and-peek warrants could be used for any investigation, even if the crime was only a misdemeanor.

This provision is the reason all of my data is encrypted at all times. The drives in my computer and the external backup drives are all entirely encrypted. Data can’t be retrieved from or written to my drives without the decryption keys (technically an agent could wipe my drive, reinstall the operating system, and include key-logging software but all my data would be missing which would raise some serious red flags). I advise everybody to use disk encryption technology on their systems.

There you have it, a nice overview of three provisions of the PATRIOT Act that shit all over our supposedly Constitutionally guaranteed rights of protection.