According to this story, the Patriot Act (passed last October) has produced results that might take you by surprise. The Patriot Act gave law enforcement officials expanded authority to subpoena information without a court order. The result is that the telecommunications industry and Internet service providers face an escalating barrage of subpoenas for subscriber lists, personal credit reports, financial information, routing patterns that reveal individual computer use, even customer photographs. There are literally hundreds of thousands of subpoenas out there, and the number is roughly doubling every month. It’s become a financial burden to the companies trying to respond – some have put on around-the-clock shifts of employees struggling to comply.

A typical subpoena to a cell phone service provider, Gidari said, can be used to identify all calls on a certain date between 10:15 and 10:30 a.m. by everyone in a small town, or within a few square blocks of a big city. . . .

Online booksellers can be forced to divulge lists of customers who have expressed interest in books about explosives, poisons or other subjects that arouse suspicion. The government is also collecting photographs of customers to include in databases for later matches against computerized facial recognition systems, Gidari said. . . .

Under the Patriot Act, said James X. Dempsey, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology and author of “Terrorism and the Constitution,” the FBI “can go into a public library and ask for the records on anybody who ever used the library, or who used it on a certain day, or checked out certain kinds of books.

“It can do the same at any bank, telephone company, hotel or motel, hospital or university — merely upon the claim that the information is `sought for’ an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good analysis of the Patriot Act.

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