Documents obtained by the digital rights advocacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) via Freedom of Information Act litigation showed the FBI abused surveillance powers granted by the PATRIOT Act.
In February the US Congresses passed a bill to extend three specific provisions of the PATRIOT Act – the roving wiretaps, "lone wolf" and "library record" provisions were extended until May 27.
The provisions grant authorities the ability to conduct surveillance without identifying the target or locations being monitored. They also allow surveillance of non-US citizens non-affiliated with terrorist groups and allow the FBI to access "any tangible thing" during their investigations.
FBI Director Robert Mueller argued before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the provisions should be made permanent and that no violations or abuses of the provisions have taken place.
However, EFF found that the FBI monitored young kids for at least five days, even though the conversations did not match the language of the target. According to a report, the abuse and violation occurred due to negligence on the FBI’s part because of an inaccurate review of a wiretap renewal application.
Following Mueller’s call to renew and possibly make permanent the provisions, a number of legislators are expected to comply. But, some lawmakers plan to seek amendments top ensure the civil liberties of Americas are maintained.
Senate Democratic Minority Whip Dick Durbin proposed an amendment that would require the government describe the target of a wiretap with greater specificity to avoid violations like spending days monitoring the conversations of children.
"Roving wiretaps, which do not require the government to specify the place to be bugged, are designed to allow law enforcement to track targets who evade surveillance by frequently changing phones," he explained. "Before the PATRIOT Act, roving wiretaps were only permitted for criminal investigations."
The PATRIOT Act changed the criminal provision and allowed law enforcement to listen to anyone they deemed necessary – even independent of an investigation.
“The PATRIOT Act did not include sufficient checks to protect innocent Americans from unwarranted government surveillance," Durbin remarked.
This is something he and fellow civil liberty advocates hope to address before the PATRIOT Act is extended again.