A controversial section of the USA PATRIOT Act has received a temporary extension, with critics hoping it remains only temporary. Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act was originally set to expire Dec. 15, but was recently extended for three months as part of a stopgap government funding measure passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Trump. Privacy advocates across the political spectrum have called for an end to Section 215 or, at the very least, major reforms to it.
Section 215 is the part of the law that allows the federal government to access and acquire phone records from across the country. It is supposed to only target foreign suspects who may be plotting or taking actions hostile to America, such as terrorists. But former Houston Congressman Ted Poe says the law is routinely abused. "Our government not only spies on foreign nationals, it spies on Americans," he tells KTRH. "And it collects data, conversations, and e-mails of Americans without the use of a warrant."
Poe voted against reauthorizing Section 215 when he was in Congress, but it has repeatedly been renewed anyway. He predicts the same thing will happen this time unless enough people speak out to their member of Congress. "Probably the House will reauthorize Section 215, but I hope Congress would not reauthorize it because of the abuse by the CIA and NSA in collecting the data on Americans without warrants," says Poe.
Evidence of that abuse appears to be clear. Under one part of Section 215, the NSA acquired over 434 million phone records last year alone. "Americans need to know that our government is spying on them without a warrant, and the NSA continues to do it in spite of the law," says Poe.