Two Senate Democrats want the Justice Department to share more details about how it interprets a key provision of the Patriot Act. The lawmakers say the public has a right to know about a sensitive intelligence gathering program.
So Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Colorado Democrat Mark Udall have sent a letter of complaint to the attorney general. The senators say people would be stunned to know how the government is going about getting business records and other information under the U.S. Patriot Act.
But the Justice Department says those issues require secrecy. It has asked a court to throw out Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking more disclosure about the program. And in a 2011 letter to Wyden and Udall it said "we do not believe the Executive Branch is operating pursuant to 'secret law' or 'secret opinions of the Department of Justice.' " Justice made the case that its requests for information under the Patriot Act provision are reviewed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as required by law.
But the senators say they're now skeptical that the intelligence program has any value.
Update at 2:05 p.m. ET: The American Civil Liberties Union says it has been notified that the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel has two legal memos that interpret the relevant part of the Patriot Act, known as Section 215. But Justice says "they are protected by the deliberative process privilege and they are not appropriate for discretionary release."