Conyers to Holder: Give Us the 215 Info

I guess I’m not the only one who noticed that DOJ is trying to reauthorize Section 215 without leveling with the American people how they’re using it. John Conyers, Jerrold Nadler, and Bobby Scott have written Eric Holder, requesting that he make more information on the way Section 215 is used public.

In order to meaningfully consider whether and how to extend the "business records" section of the Act, however, we ask that the Department work to provide additional public information on the use of that provision.

Specifically, at the September 22 hearing, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Hinnen testified that orders under Section 215 of the Act, which authorizes compulsory production of "business records," have been used to obtain "transactional information" to support "important and highly sensitive intelligence collection." He explained that some members of the Subcommittee and cleared staff have received some briefings on this topic, and that additional information could be made available to them "in a classified setting."

We have appreciated the information that has been provided, and fully understand the importance of safeguarding our country’s national security secrets. Too often in 2007 and 2008, however, crucial information remained unknown to the public and many members of Congress when Congress voted on important surveillance legislation affecting the interests of all Americans. As has also been requested in the Senate, we ask that the Department work to make publicly available additional basic information on the use of Section 215, so that Congress can more openly and thoroughly consider the future of this authority while fully protecting our national security secrets.

I’m hoping they have more leverage than Russ Feingold, who I believe made this request in the Senate, since nothing is going to pass through HJC without these three gentlemen’s involvement.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

21 replies
  1. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Too often in 2007 and 2008, however, crucial information remained unknown to the public and many members of Congress when Congress voted on important surveillance legislation affecting the interests of all Americans.

    Am I the only one who still finds it ‘more than strange’ that all this surveillance goes on and yet in 2008 Hank Paulson put a 3-page ultimatum before Congress that basically said, “Pay up or we’ll blow up your entire f*cking banking and finance system!”

    So we’re basically underwriting banksters and AIG and Goldman Sachs for complex derivatives, every one of which had to include sequences of electronic transactions? Presumably, under a surveillance system you’d be able to track those transactions. Yet, no one can tell us what happened with all that money moving around…?

    … off to smack my head against the keyboard a few more times…

    • PJEvans says:

      They’re ignoring all that – or pretending to – because it would reveal how powerless the official government is.

  2. Loo Hoo. says:

    OT- Keith will have a full hour special comment Wednesday on health care. Sounds like he’s going to call for action on our part!!!

    • bmaz says:

      That is a play for ratings by a pompous gasbag. Five minutes of his histrionic “Special Comments” became unbearable after about the third or fourth one. Now he is going to do an hour long one? No thanks.

      • Arbusto says:

        Give the gas bag a chance. Maybe he’ll channel Jane and put the whole thing in easy to understand language even Congress could use as talking points.

      • james says:

        I wholeheartedly concur.
        The act is getting old, even Maddow is getting old.
        Would have liked her to identify Koch, the guy behind Americans for Prosperity, as Dubya’s brother-in-law.
        Guess that isn’t newsworthy.

  3. pdaly says:

    wondering if this OT article gets to materials and methods for the FBI investigating a person of interest (in this case a computer programmer who made a public archive of the temporarily free PACER federal court records).

    http://www.wired.com/threatlev…..wartz-fbi/

    The feds also checked Swartz’s Facebook page, ran his name against the Department of Labor to figure out his work history, looked for outstanding warrants and prior convictions, checked to see if his mobile phone number had ever come up in a federal wiretap or pen register, and checked him against the records in a private data broker’s database.

    Just a single private date broker’s database?

    • BoxTurtle says:

      As an example, DBT in Florida has all of that information online and available to law enforcement. And they’re only one of many.

      Boxturtle (We know who you are and we saw what you did)

  4. BillE says:

    Will someone please explain to me how a shmuck like Coburn can just say no to things ( a hold ) and everyone just walks around going “oh shit what are we going to do” and gains huge leverage, while nice guys like Fiengold get rolled?

    Is it just a show? Can’t they put a hold on as well?

    I’m more than a little pissed at the Leahy Whitehouse combo as well. I thought better of them until I thought about it a little more and oh yeah, they were prosecutors. Not they kind of people who think investigations should be stopped.

    bille

  5. orionATL says:

    with respect to 215 legislation and other “terrorist” matters,

    the key question these last 8 PLUS, PLUS mind you, years is:

    why does “influential” information keep coming up, over and over again, at just the perfect time to influence legislation, or litigation, or voting?

    how is it, for example, that the zazi info became public in such detail?

    was a years-long foi court case necessary?

    no?

    well then, was it volunteered?

    by whom?

    was it leaked?

    by whom?

    was it given to difi by some obama boys?

    how is it that since 2001 we have a years-long pattern of “scary” terrorist info being released by the executive branch and showing up just as legislators, voters, or judges are about to make a decision?

    that’s the key question re the patriot act reauthorization hearings in the senate.

  6. bobschacht says:

    Is trash talk allowed? After all, its MNF.

    The Geezer-led Yikes so far are spanking the Whippersnapper-led Pacadores de la Baia Verde. Since I grew up in Packer territory, I am somewhat torn, but I’m even older than Favre. But it certainly seems like the Geezer has brought some excitement to Lake Wobegon, if it is possible to speak of Lutherans getting excited. Even the Yikes’ defense is performing well.

    Bob in AZ

  7. ezdidit says:

    What the hell is there to know about sec.215? Results speak for themselves: How many terrorists were apprehended through sec.215 orders? 6? 7? 8? and how many sec.215 orders were used to coerce drug users to turn in their pushers to get to major suppliers? 700?

    The war on drugs marches on, shredding our Constitution – this gambit run by a Constitutional scholar who really knows how to do it to us this time.

  8. Boston1775 says:

    So I’m out looking for info on Section 215 and I find a 2003 article in Slate that includes some of these long forgotten memories:

    On the other hand, there’s the John Ashcroft “Patriot Rocks” concert tour, launched last month, which has him visiting 18 cities and talking up the act to local law enforcement officials. The DOJ also unloosed a new Web site last month, designed to shore up support for the act. Ashcroft contends that had the Patriot Act been in place earlier, 9/11 wouldn’t have happened and that absent a Patriot Act, the country may have seen more 9/11s over the past two years—a double-double negative that’s unprovable, but enough to scare you witless. There have also been a raft of op-eds and articles—some evidently written by Ashcroft’s U.S. attorneys at knifepoint—simultaneously making the point that the act has staved off unspeakable acts of terror while maintaining that it made only tiny infinitesimal changes to the existing laws.

    my uneffingbelievable bold

    And then there’s this insight about the DOJ:

    Downplaying the extent of these changes, the DOJ argued to Congress that 215 is no big deal, since grand juries could always subpoena private records in the past. The difference they don’t acknowledge is that investigators may now do so secretly, and these orders cannot be contested in court. While the new DOJ Web site asserts that searches under 215 are limited to “business records,” the act on its face allows scrutiny of “any tangible thing” including books, records, papers, documents, and anything else. The site also says U.S. citizens may not be subject to search, but the act does not differentiate. How can it, when a library or doctor’s office is simply asked to produce a list of names? And here is where the Justice Department hedges: It claims that a citizen cannot be searched “solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.” That means you can’t have your records searched solely because you wrote an article criticizing the Patriot Act. But if you are originally from India and write that article, well, that’s not “solely” anymore is it? To be sure, the ACLU is doing a bit of fearmongering when it says the DOJ can rifle through your records if they don’t like what you’re reading. If you’re a U.S. citizen and not otherwise suspicious, you’re probably safe, so long as all you do is read.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2087984/

  9. Jim White says:

    And after all the 215 blather from the Senate, this morning AP is reporting that Zazi was first identified by the CIA and information was passed from them to the FBI, who got a FISA warrant. So where does 215 even come into play here? Sheesh.

  10. emptywheel says:

    That’s not that surprising.

    First they may be trying to distract from the when and where from Temple-Raston’s piece. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t use 215–or more importantly aren’t using it to find Zazi’s associates.

    Incidentally, Obama is addressing the NCTC today, will probably talk about their good work on this.

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