It happened. At midnight on June 1, Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act expired after weeks of debate and an unyielding Senate gridlock.
While the USA Freedom Act will likely come to pass later this week, at least for now, certain aspects of the PATRIOT Act are expired, including Section 215, which allowed for the bulk collection of phone metadata. Along with Section 215, the “lone wolf” provision, which allowed the government to order a wiretap of terrorism suspects who are not part of a foreign group, and the “roving” wiretap provision, which followed suspects who change phones, expired, as well.
The lone wolf provision was never used by the government, and the roving provision was used rarely.
Although certain government officials, including CIA Director John Brennan are worried terrorists will take advantage of this momentary lapse in security policy, privacy advocates don’t seem too concerned.
Brennan told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he believed terrorists were monitoring the U.S. and its movement on surveillance legislation.
“Whether or not it’s disclosures of classified information, or whether it’s changes in the law and policies, they’re looking for the seams to operate within,” he said “This is something that we can’t afford to deal with right now, because if you look at the horrific terrorist attacks and violence that’s being perpetrated around the globe, we need to keep our country safe.”
However, prior to the provision expiring, various people chimed in online to refute and make fun of the government’s terrorist concerns.
On Twitter, Glenn Greenwald, who released Edward Snowden’s documents along with other journalists, tweeted: “’If Section 215 of the Patriot Act is permitted to sunset, the world shall be ours’ – The Terrorists.”
Matt Blaze, an associate professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania, tweeted too, saying, “Terrorists around the world are now aiming their deadly metadata missiles, preparing to fire them at midnight.”
And after Section 215 expired, others continued to comment.
Christoper Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweeted: “Had Congress reauthorized Section 215 last night, I wouldn’t have burned my toast this morning. I blame the terrorists.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) noted during a press call on Monday that the public’s had an immense response to the current law and proposed bills. The EFF attributed all the online debate, legislative conversations and general back and forth on the legislation to the large amount of action constituents have taken, such as calling legislators and emailing Congress.
“It’s a really important piece in all of this,” said Nadia Kayyali, an activist at the EFF. “Maybe [the USA Freedom Act] isn’t the perfect bill, but we are in a sunset now and that’s huge.”
The provisions’ expiration doesn’t mean the government cannot obtain telephone data. If it identifies a new phone number it suspects could be linked to terrorists, it will have to subpoena phone companies for the call records and wait for a response. The National Security Agency (NSA) cannot query its own database for the information.
The expired legislation also has built-in grandfather clauses that permit their authority to continue indefinitely for any investigation started prior to June 1.