Counterintelligence and Access to Transactional Records: A Practical History of USA PATRIOT Act Section 215

The USA PATRIOT Act has sparked intense public debate, with proponents claiming that the Act is a necessarily hard-minded response to a national crisis, while opponents see unwarranted, even opportunistic, expansion of state power. Perhaps no provision of the Act has generated more controversy than §215, which authorizes the FBI to seek a court order compelling the production of “any tangible things” relevant to certain counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. Like many other provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, §215 will expire on December 31, 2005, unless reauthorized by Congress. The controversy, therefore, is likely to intensify over the coming months.

By Michael J. Woods

Michael J. Woods is an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice. He previously served as chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) National Security Law Unit and as Principal Legal Advisor to the National Counterintelligence Executive. The research and writing of this article (exclusive of some final editing) occurred while he was in private practice.

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