House Vote on the Patriot Act:
A big item in the news today is that the House of Representatives voted to block the part of the Patriot Act that allows the government to get library and book store records. I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what the House voted on — as usual, the press coverage is devoid of the details needed to tell you what actually happened — but as best I can tell the actual issue was a bit narrower, and the vote is likely to be mostly symbolic.

  It seems that the bill approved by the House would block federal funding for any effort to use Section 215 of the Patriot Act to obtain records from libraries or bookstores relating to actual book purchases or borrowing. I'm not sure if this would actually stop Section 215 from being used in such contexts, as I don't know enough about the appropriations process to know how directly the funding question links to the practice. More broadly, it's my understanding that the bill would still allow Internet records to be obtained from libraries and bookstores under Section 215, and would still allow records of libraries and bookstores to be obtained under traditional criminal authorities and also under other provisions of FISA beyond Secton 215. Finally, it helps to keep in mind that this is just a House vote. It seems unlikely that the Senate will go along with this, and the President's promised veto if this passes means it is not likely to make it into legislation (something that I assume the House members knew when they voted on it). Still, an interesting development. Stay tuned.