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NYTimes Sues US Gov't To Know How It Interprets the PATRIOT Act 186

Posted by Soulskill
from the however-it-pleases dept.
hydrofix writes "Techdirt has been following the story of the DoJ's classified interpretation of the PATRIOT Act. Specifically, it's all about Section 215, the so-called 'business-records provision,' which empowers the FBI to get businesses to turn over any records it deems relevant to a security investigation. Senators Ron Ryden and Mark Udall have been pushing the government to reveal how it uses these provisions to deploy 'dragnets' for massive amounts of information on private citizens 'without any connection to terrorism or espionage,' a secret reinterpretation that is 'inconsistent with the public's understanding of these laws.' After NYTimes reporter Charlie Savage had his Freedom of Information request denied, the NYTimes has now sued the government (PDF) to reveal how it interprets the very law under which it's required to operate."
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NYTimes Sues US Gov't To Know How It Interprets the PATRIOT Act

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  • Wyden not Ryden (Score:5, Informative)

    by theswade (2020510) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:08PM (#37685050) Journal
    Hey, that's my senator's name you're mangling there! Ron Wyden of Oregon.
  • by ackthpt (218170) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:10PM (#37685066) Homepage Journal

    We'll take all your records then tell you if you've done something wrong*.

    * After we've raided your offices and taken all your fun little computers out in boxes.

  • by Smallpond (221300) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:11PM (#37685076) Homepage Journal

    Doesn't the 5th amendment to the constitution require laws to be clear and fair?

    • Re:Due process (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:17PM (#37685128)

      Our government doesn't give even half of a flying fuck about what the Constitution says any more.

      • by v1 (525388) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:38PM (#37685284) Homepage Journal

        is that we have to sue our own government in an attempt to force them to tell us about the laws they are enforcing against us. That alone indicates a huge problem with the system, regardless of the nature of the laws themselves.

        If I could vote in one constitutional amendment right now, it would be "No Secret Laws". That alone would fix a great deal of evil by shining some light into the many dark corners of our government.

        • by flaming error (1041742) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:48PM (#37685336) Journal

          Secret "laws" don't even make any damn sense. A law is an instruction they want you to follow.

          If they don't tell the NYT what the rule is, it's not a law at all. It's just standard run-of-the-mill selective enforcement of the rulers' whims. A tyranny.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            Secret laws work because they want you to do things they *can't* require you to do, so they pass a law that says nothing and hide it, hinting that you'll get in trouble for some unrelated things. What are you going to do, break the "law" or follow it voluntarily, even if the law, if it were what they said it was, wouldn't be enforcable. But you can't challenge it, as it's not even there.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. We will not even tell you what crime you are committing. Maybe you didn't break any law, but now you're resisting arrest by verbally arguing with an officer.
          • by Phat_Tony (661117) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @11:59PM (#37687022)
            There is an important, yet meaningless, distinction between what you're saying and what they're doing.

            They aren't hiding the law. They're hiding their interpretation of the law. Anybody can look up the law and read it. The government just decided they think the law means something different than anybody else thinks it means, and they won't tell you what.

            You and I know that, empirically, hiding how the law will be enforced is the same thing as hiding the text of the law itself. Either way, the public can not determine what actions are illegal. The difference is that while hiding the law itself is clearly wrong in a very objective, supreme-court overturnable sort of way, classifying the government's interpretation of the law is doubleplusgood.

            In fact, if this does make it to the Supreme Court, the DoJ can just say that they have an alternate, classified interpretation of The Constitution, that the Supreme Court can not know about this interpretation due to it being classified, and that this interpretation makes it legal for the government to radically reinterpret laws and classifying those reinterpretations.

            Catch 22, SCOTUS, what do you do now? Before you answer, remember that you're not the branch with a Commander In Chief.
            • by he-sk (103163)

              Catch 22, SCOTUS, what do you do now? Before you answer, remember that you're not the branch with a Commander In Chief.

              The Supreme Court has asserted its authority over the President and Congress for over 200 years without the need of armed enforcement. If there's a conflict between two branches of government it is up to the people (who are the found of all power) to resolve it.

              • The Supreme Court has asserted its authority over the President and Congress for over 200 years without the need of armed enforcement.

                Might want to read a bit more history. Specifically, the parts about Andrew Jackson's Presidency and interaction with the Supremes.

        • by Lead Butthead (321013) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:55PM (#37685394) Journal

          oh, you can't. sorry about that...

        • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @07:23PM (#37685580) Journal

          If I could vote in one constitutional amendment right now, it would be "No Secret Laws".

          Then the courts would just declare a national security exemption. What's actually in the constitution doesn't matter, as long as the courts are willing to disregard it.

        • by Z8 (1602647)

          is that we have to sue our own government in an attempt to force them to tell us about the laws they are enforcing against us. That alone indicates a huge problem with the system, regardless of the nature of the laws themselves.

          Totally agree, but that may be just how messed up our system is. I think it's an example of why at least some of the money that traditionally went to newspapers was helpful. If the NY Times didn't do this I doubt there'd be a long line of bloggers and community news aggregators wit

        • by Mattsson (105422)

          But if I, as a foreigner who's not really up to speed on the law or the legal system in the USA, has got this right, this particular law is not secret as such...
          As I understand it, this is a law that mainly regulate how the government is allowed to act against the USA citizens.
          The problem is that the USA government doesn't let the USA citizens know what it is or isn't allowed to do, so the citizens have no way of knowing if their government is breaking the law or not.
          If the NY Times loose this lawsuit, it i

          • by tehcyder (746570)

            It really ought to be illegal for any government to keep any secrets from it's citizens.

            How about when the Allied Forces were planning D-Day in 1944? Should they have released the timetable of the invasion?

            Rightly or wrongly, the US and other Western governments consider themselves to be involved in a War on Terror(ism) and in war time you often have to over-rule certain democratic freedoms.

            Just saying.

            • by V!NCENT (1105021)

              Wasn't that exactly what Hitler did to Germany? Whoopsy...

              The secret operations that a government conducts is realy just that, but when a citizen doesn't have the right to know what he/she must/musn't do... Then guess what? The US government is at war with its own citizens.

              If the USA was my country, I'd hustle so people on Facebook and go to the streets with an axe. Oh wait... That's 'terrorism'.

              Get it?

            • How about when the Allied Forces were planning D-Day in 1944? Should they have released the timetable of the invasion? Rightly or wrongly, the US and other Western governments consider themselves to be involved in a War on Terror(ism) and in war time you often have to over-rule certain democratic freedoms. Just saying.

              Seriously, this crap again? No one has ever suggested that battlefield movements be immediately published in the New York Times. It is a straw man argument that completely sidesteps the very real issue of the government doing lord-knows-what and hiding behind some completely unsubstantiated National Security claim. And as far as the War on Terror(ism) goes, it is not "rightly or wrongly"; it's wrongly.

              Unfortunately, my sig gets more spot-on every damn day...

    • by bigtrike (904535)

      Those rights only apply when there aren't big scary terrorists killing a tiny fraction of a percentage of our population.

    • by Sloppy (14984)

      The 22nd catch to the constitution says they don't.

    • Doesn't the 5th amendment to the constitution require laws to be clear and fair?

      Indirectly, this is true. The 5th amendment to the US constitution guarantees the right to due process of law. And there is plenty of case law from the US Supreme Court making it clear that due process requires laws to be interpreted according to the language they contain. For example, "In deciding a question of statutory construction, we begin of course with the language of the statute." [Demarest v. Manspeaker, 1991].

      The problem is when there is disagreement about what that language means. But that's for

  • Are you telling me US legislators don't have a clue of how the laws they passed are being interpreted?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They'd have to read them first, so of course not.

      • by trout007 (975317)

        As Nancy Pelosi said we have to pass the law to find out what is in the law. I guess the new line should be you have to be charged with being a terrorist before you can find out how it is defined.

    • I'm telling you that most US senators probably don't have a clue about much simpler things than the laws they make.

      • Harry Reid once quipped that the US doesn't have GPS like the rest of the world. He's the guy running the Senate right now.

    • Most of the congress critters don't even read the bill that's being put up for a vote, assuming they bother to show up for the vote.

      To be fair, most of the bills being put up for a vote are unnecessarily wordy and obscure, with six zillion unrelated amendments attached. All of which makes a very dry reading and makes layman's head spin (before exploding.)

      • Most of the congress critters don't even read the bill that's being put up for a vote, assuming they bother to show up for the vote.

        To be fair, most of the bills being put up for a vote are unnecessarily wordy and obscure, with six zillion unrelated amendments attached. All of which makes a very dry reading and makes layman's head spin (before exploding.)

        So, all we need to do to fix this situation is force the congress critters to actually read these bills!!! Then, when their heads explode, we can replace them!

  • by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@justco ... et minus painter> on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:30PM (#37685232)

    Unfortunately, sometimes you need a real entity with some clout in order to bring this kind of information to light. It shouldn't be the case, but it is. And I just can't see a blog having the resources to do something like this, or discovering the wiretaps a few years back, or uncovering Watergate.

    Most of the time, news is nothing special... stuff happens and it gets written about - but sometimes it takes significant resources, and I just don't see any news blogs being able to muster up that kind of force. Which is why you won't be finding me cheering the death of newspapers.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Most of the time, news is nothing special... stuff happens and it gets written about - but sometimes it takes significant resources, and I just don't see any news blogs being able to muster up that kind of force. Which is why you won't be finding me cheering the death of newspapers.

      This has nothing to do with "significant resources" and everything to do with significant access.

      Newspaper Journalists do not have some magical ability to dig out information.
      Their main superpower is the ability to protect the identity of their sources. That's it.
      Everything else they do is about cultivating access to people with secrets.

      As an example: Wikileaks doesn't have significant resources, all they have is a large public presence and a promise of anonymity.
      People come to them

    • by sootman (158191)

      You beat me to it. There are some VERY HARD PROBLEMS that need solving in the news business: the cost of copying someone else's content and distributing it to the world is effectively zero; there is always "somewhere else" to get the news, probably for free; lots of people don't care about non-celebrity-related news; and the entire print publishing industry has not done very well coping with the digital world. Plus there are big problems with the media as we know it today (as evidenced in the annual "top te

  • a never ending trail of privacy and rights disasters yet people are played deftly by the parties so that a perpetual state of power is maintained.

    To think that even Congressmen have to jump through hoops to find out how the system works speaks loudly that the system is horribly broke. When you have a system run by lawyers looking for every little hole instead of looking for the truth or the spirit of the law you end up with lawlessness incarnate.

    The best solution is to vote out the current administration an

    • Or YOU could start an alternative party (or take over an existing one), build it up to national level then take over and fix the problems. We like to make excuses for all the bad horrible things the government does but the truth is most people just don't care.
    • and if we use your method we can be out of this mess in just 12 or more years.
      I don't even like to wait 1/2 an hour for my pizza. Should I call another store?

    • by ThorGod (456163)

      No, no, what we need is a new voting system.

      http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xeblp8_steven-brams-on-approval-voting_people

      Get rid of the single vote and get rid of the two dominating parties. Simple as that.

  • by slick7 (1703596) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:57PM (#37685404)
    We don't have to tell you. The PATRIOT act is our shield.
    The Constitution is MY "patriot" act, obey it!
  • My prediction. It will be thrown out for lack of standing.
  • We don't have to tell you that.

    (Oh wait, that was too much information already; now we must kill you.)

  • Seriously, this is it: Kafka's The Trial [wikipedia.org].

    The protagonist was arrested, tried, and sentenced to die under charges and laws he was never allowed to examine. First published in 1925 so maybe that's why it's not in much memory.

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