Federal officials are worried that key tools used to hunt terrorists and spies could fall victim to the fight over the government's controversial phone-surveillance program, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, using authority in a soon-to-expire section of the 2001 Patriot Act, may seek “tangible things'' to aid in terrorism or intelligence probes, such as hotel bills, credit-card slips and other documents. The law’s section 215 allows the FBI, with a court order, to take “books, records, papers, documents, and other items.''
The authority is used as a way to collect evidence secretly on suspected foreign spies in the U.S. Section 215, which is set to expire in June, also provides the legal basis for the National Security Agency's controversial collection of phone records. That program has come under intense scrutiny from Congress, civil-liberties groups and others after revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. built a vast database of millions of Americans' phone records. It is unclear whether Congress will have the votes to pass an extension before Section 215 expires.