U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) raised concerns today at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee with National Security Agency Director General Keith Alexander over Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which has been reportedly been used to obtain the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans and can also be used to obtain other sensitive personal information, including medical records, internet search records, tax records, and credit card records.
"Over the years, my most significant concern with the Patriot Act has been Section 215, which can be used to obtain sensitive personal information of innocent Americans without any connection to a suspected terrorist or spy. Last year, the government filed 212 Section 215 orders -- an increase from 21 orders in 2009." Durbin said. "I want to ensure that the government can obtain the useful information we need to stay safe, but still protect the privacy of innocent Americans."
In 2003, Senator Durbin introduced the SAFE Act, a bipartisan bill to retain the expanded powers of the Patriot Act but place some reasonable limits on these powers to protect our constitutional rights -- including a requirement of individualized suspicion for Section 215 orders.
In 2005, Senator Durbin authored language in the Senate-passed Patriot Act reauthorization to require individualized suspicion for Section 215 orders. This provision would require that the government could only issue a Section 215 order for an American's records if there is some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy. This provision was removed from the final bill at the insistence of the Bush Administration.
In 2009, Senator Durbin offered the same language as an amendment during the debate over the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.