Philippe Put (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Yes, the expiration of certain parts of the Patriot Act and passage of the USA Freedom Act ended authority for several forms of surveillance of U.S. citizens. But the government still has ways of listening to your phone calls.

The FBI, for example, can “do whatever it wants with your phone calls,” writes Sam Thielman at The Guardian, “provided it has a warrant. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, used by the FBI ‘to obtain large collections of metadata’, had indeed expired, but the USA Freedom Act restored it.”

Thielman continues:

The main statute the FBI uses to listen in directly on phone calls is called Calea – the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. Calea was designed to make it easier for the FBI to listen in on calls as telecoms technology shifted from copper wires to digital. Essentially, giving the FBI a backdoor key to your network is a condition of running a phone or internet company. Where phone records are concerned, the FBI has a history of circumventing the requirement for a warrant, notoriously in the years after 9/11 with “exigent letters” seeking billing records, which claimed – often falsely – that the situation was an emergency and a grand jury was about to be convened.

And there are National Security Letters, which allow the FBI to collect “business records” (and that includes credit card statements and phone information) without having to get permission from a judge.

National Security Letters are sticking around, though they can’t be used to collect phone records in bulk anymore. But the Freedom Act specifically states that you won’t be able to tell anybody you received a National Security Letter. If this provision sounds to you like it does not belong in something called the Freedom Act, you have a point.

Read much more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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