When enacted, Section 215 of the Patriot Act allowed the government to collect tangible things such as documents, records, and papers to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a US citizen or to protect against international terrorism.
In 2006, Section 215 was set to expire. Congress renewed the provision, but not without changes. To prevent mass data collection on Americans, the provision was amended such that the Government’s order include “a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation.”
Unbeknownst to Congress and the public, the Executive Branch interpreted the provision in such a way that allowed them to collect the phone and email records of every American. They then classified the interpretation as top-secret. A whistle-blower’s actions finally made the interpretation public.
How can our democracy remain healthy when the Executive Branch, though twisted interpretations, can essentially create secret laws absent the will of Congress and the American people? The USA Freedom Act would have required that such interpretations be made public. Both Sen. Johnson and Rep. Noem supported the bill. Sen. Thune, however, cast a deciding vote against the bill, thereby preserving secret laws.