How Useful is Section 215 to Law Enforcement?

Despite doubling its use of bulk surveillance orders in the five years ending in 2009, the FBI could not point to a single case where the use of Section 215 of the Patriot Act helped solve a major case. That's not some left-wing activist speaking but is the conclusion of a 77 page report by the Inspector General of the Justice Department.

Yet to hear recent remarks from the political class—I'm looking at you, Senator McConnell—the imminent lapsing of the Patriot Act is the harbinger of Armageddon. The FBI, too, has always described the act as essential for battling the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse.

Remember this the next time the three-letter agencies and their apologists in the government trot out their usual scare tactics. What they're really saying is, “It's absolutely essential even though we haven't actually used it. Still, it's a fair trade for your civil liberties.”

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