Let the Sun Set on PATRIOT - Section 201:

Section 201, "Authority to Intercept Wire, Oral, and Electronic Communications Relating to Terrorism," and Section 805, "Material Support for Terrorism"

In March 2006, the sunsetting provisions were renewed. Read here for analysis.

Section 201, in combination with Section 805 -- which does not sunset -- makes it so the FBI can get a wiretap to listen in on your private conversations based on your association with an organization classified by the U.S. government as "terrorist" -- whether or not the organization engages in legitimate political advocacy or humanitarian work. An example of such an organization is the anti-apartheid African National Congress, which was designated a "terrorist" organization before apartheid was defeated.

EFF objects to Section 201 only to the extent that it authorizes wiretapping to investigate violations of Section 805. We don't necessarily oppose the renewal of Section 201 -- as long as Section 805 is repealed.

How PATRIOT Sections 201 and 805 Changed the Law

The FBI can wiretap your phone, or "bug" your house or office, only when investigating the most serious crimes. PATRIOT 201 made a number of additions to the list of crimes that can justify police surveillance, including one brand new crime created by PATRIOT Section 805 -- providing "material support" to terrorist organizations in the form of "expert advice or assistance." This section, which does not sunset, could criminalize a broad range of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Why Section 805 Should Be Repealed

Section 805 makes it a crime to offer "expert advice and assistance" to any foreign organization that the Secretary of State has designated as "terrorist." But, as we note above, many of these "terrorist" organizations also advocate for, and provide humanitarian assistance to, their constituents. Yet PATRIOT makes it illegal to offer expert advice and assistance even for these legal, non-terrorist activities.

A humanitarian social worker training Hamas members how to care for civilian children orphaned in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could be sent to prison. So could a lawyer teaching IRA members about international law. Section 805 even extends to people engaged in activities to discourage terrorism, such as those offering training in effective peace negotiations or how to petition the United Nations regarding human rights abuses.

One federal court has already ruled that PATRIOT Section 805 is unconstitutional, since the vague terms "expert advice and assistance" could criminalize the First Amendment-protected activities described above. Yet the law is still in force throughout most of the U.S.

Conclusion

EFF does not necessarily oppose renewal of PATRIOT Section 201, authorizing the use of wiretaps in terrorism investigations, but strongly supports the repeal of Section 805, which could unconstitutionally criminalize the exercise of your First Amendment rights. We also support the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE Act, § 1709/HR 3352) and encourage you to visit EFF's Action Center today to let your representatives know you support the bill./a>