Russ Feingold was the only U.S. senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act. Here’s what he said at the time:
One provision that troubles me a great deal is a provision that permits the government under FISA to compel the production of records from any business regarding any person, if that information is sought in connection with an investigation of terrorism or espionage.
Now we’re not talking here about travel records pertaining to a terrorist suspect, which we all can see can be highly relevant to an investigation of a terrorist plot. FISA already gives the FBI the power to get airline, train, hotel, car rental and other records of a suspect.
But under this bill, the government can compel the disclosure of the personal records of anyone — perhaps someone who worked with, or lived next door to, or went to school with, or sat on an airplane with, or has been seen in the company of, or whose phone number was called by — the target of the investigation.
And under this new provisions all business records can be compelled, including those containing sensitive personal information like medical records from hospitals or doctors, or educational records, or records of what books someone has taken out of the library. This is an enormous expansion of authority, under a law that provides only minimal judicial supervision.
As I mentioned earlier, it is not necessarily news that the government is spying on us and has way too much authority to capture virtually any information about us it wants. If anything, the recent NSA leaks simply represent the pot boiling over as a few concerned federal employees start to rebel against the surveillance machine that has arisen as a result of the PATRIOT Act’s expansion of the federal government’s authority to spy on us with very little procedural safeguards.