The day before President Obama signed a 4-year extension of three key Patriot Act provisions (New York Times), several Democratic Senators expressed concern over the Justice Department’s interpretation of the Act (New York Times). During debate on the Act’s reauthorization, Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, both suggested that the government is using the Patriot Act in a secretive and problematic manner. Mr. Wyden stated: “I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.” Both senators suggested that the government’s interpretation contradicts a “plain reading of the text,” but did not delve into specifics.
The comments may reflect a growing weariness of President Obama’s inaction in correcting some of the perceived flaws of the Patriot Act. The Act, which dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ ability to search e-mail communications, along with telephone, medical, and financial records has been criticized by civil liberties advocates, who claim that it gives government officials too much freedom in conducting domestic surveillance. Some critics had hoped that the Obama administration would cut back on some of the more troublesome aspects of the law, but as of yet the Patriot Act remains largely unchanged.