Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the government to obtain a secret court order requiring third parties, such as telephone and Internet providers and financial institutions, to hand over business records or any other “tangible thing” if deemed “relevant” to an international terrorism, counterespionage, or foreign intelligence investigation. After a federal appeals court ruled that the government’s interpretation of Section 215 was “unprecedented and unwarranted,” Congress sought to end the NSA’s mass collection of phone records by passing the 2015 USA FREEDOM Act. However, recent official disclosures suggest that the will of Congress has been thwarted. Congress must examine these abuses of Section 215 before considering a reauthorization and make reforms to Section 215 to ensure that it is not misused to spy on Americans.
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