Congress is in the process of tweaking sixteen separate sections of the USA Patriot Act that were scheduled to sunset at the end of this year.
There is a House bill and the Senate bill, and the two versions are being reconciled in conference committee. The USA Patriot Act was a wide-ranging expansion of state power—and in the information age, that means wide-ranging effects on the technology and telecommunications industries and their customers. Four years later, regulatory agencies have issued the rules to flesh out the provisions of the law.
Here’s a roundup of how different set-to-expire parts of the Patriot Act affect the technology industry:
Pre-PATRIOT wiretap law required that common carrier telecommunication firms that must provide wiretapping assistance be named in the warrant. But PATRIOT vitiates that requirement, allowing the issuance of generic orders by the court and leaving the wiretapping agents to direct telecommunications providers to provide access to their systems.
After stonewalling requests for information for a few years, the Department of Justice in March, with the sunset coming up, said this provision had been used 49 times. Competing PATRIOT reauthorization acts in the House and Senate would renew the provision for 10 and four years respectively. The Senate bill would require more information about the target beforehand and add extensive public reporting on the use of roving wiretaps.
Again the House and Senate would renew this expiring provision for 10 and four years respectively. Both reauthorization bills contain limited rights to counsel, and the Senate’s version would require the orders be accompanied by a description of the records to be searched and the facts justifying the request, as well as additional public reporting requirements.
Section 216 expanded this authority to Internet communications, but it is still not clear after four years which parts of Internet communications are “non-content.” Does it include the “Subject” lines of emails? URLs of websites visited? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a Freedom of Information request to find out.