Feds Can Keep Snooping via 'Zombie Patriot Act'

Grandfather clauses, national security letters could serve as workarounds
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 1, 2015 7:24 AM CDT
Feds Can Keep Snooping via 'Zombie Patriot Act'
In this June 6, 2013, file photo, a sign stands outside the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Critical parts of the Patriot Act expired at midnight, but while the White House and security officials have warned that this lapse in surveillance could open the US up to terror attacks, others are saying there are workarounds that allow the US to still collect intelligence on possible terrorists and spies, the New York Times reports. The biggest bone of contention is the Patriot Act's Section 215, which enabled the government to retrieve any "relevant" records in terrorism or spy investigations, the Daily Beast notes. But the "zombie Patriot Act," as the Daily Beast calls it, features grandfather clauses and still-available national security subpoenas that let the feds collect records in certain situations. "I think there are other tools that can be used, but I'm not going to elaborate on them," Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe notes.

Key to the workarounds are the grandfather clauses, which extend three expired laws if investigations started before today, the Times notes. And national security letters, which the FBI and other intelligence organizations can use to gather phone and Internet records, are still "comparatively easy" to obtain, per the Daily Beast. Officials also acknowledge that there are other existing methods to get around two of the expired laws—one that addressed wiretaps of a person using more than one device, another that allowed officials to wiretap "lone wolf" suspects—and that those two laws were rarely or never used, per the Times. Still, the White House is wary of this limited new scope. "I don't want us to be in a situation in which … suddenly we're dark ... and we could've prevented a terrorist attack," President Obama told reporters on Friday, per the Daily Beast. (Read more Patriot Act stories.)

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