The US PATRIOT Act
The September 11 bombings in 2001 had created a massive influx of political and domestic ruling within the United States as terrorism had caught the most powerful nation off-guard. The Bush Administration had immediately mobilized the Congress and the Senate to redraft the entire US national security framework and enhance the country’s law enforcement agencies to prevent further attacks in the nation. One of the most notable policies set after the September 11 bombings is the US PATRIOT Act, proposed to support law enforcement agencies by enabling them to check records and devices of citizens and “suspected” terrorists to prevent any form of attack. While the PATRIOT Act would enable the US government to seek out potential threats before its execution, the act would violate civil liberties as it would enable the government to utilize information from citizens without consent and it violates one’s right to privacy and freedom of expression.
According to Cassel (2007) the proposal for the creation of the US PATRIOT Act was proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft three days after the 9/11 attack. He had commissioned Viet Dinh, a young Department of Justice attorney from Georgetown University Law School to draft the legislation. Dinh, who had been on leave at that time, accepted the task and reviewed the Federalist Papers to serve as his basis for drafting. Hastedt (2003) stated that the legislation as then forwarded to the Congress, adopting the Dinh draft on October 25, 2001 as the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act”. The law was immediately signed as Public Law 107-56, created to deter and punish terrorist activity within the country and around the globe, updating the law enforcement system to cover terrorists and their activities. The act also covers intelligence activities, especially surveillance of private communications and data to know if individuals are supporting terrorist organizations. Search warrants would be provided to the law enforcement groups to open private messages from Internet and cellular providers. Intelligence cooperation is also under the PATRIOT Act to ensure information is transferred in accuracy and speed. The PATRIOT Act is also known for its “sunset provisions” which would ensure that provisions attached to the PATRIOT Act would end in their respective dates .
With regards to the arguments against the Act, the Republicans and Ashcroft had tried to get the act to pass immediately to prevent further delays to its passing and to discuss the provisions under the act. Only Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) had voted against the PATRIOT act, stating that he saw twelve to thirteen provisions were vastly violations of civil liberties and there was no chance for the legislative to rebuke several provisions. Attorney General Ashford had even stated that anyone who opposed the Act are traitors as they allowed the attacks to happen as the Act would stop future terrorist attacks. In June 2003, Inspector General Glenn Fine had issued a report regarding foreigner mistreatment under the PATRIOT Act and showed how unjust the act was as they were detained without due process, proof and notice to family members. The public had made its position known when some members of Congress had saw the leak by the Center for Public Integrity regarding a “PATRIOT II” in 2003, creating localized and state-wide policies to counteract the policy.
There are several provisions under the PATRIOT Act that gotten controversy such as Section 213. Addicott (2004) stated that under this provision, federal agencies had now the ability to conduct secret searches with search warrants and seize property or the sneak-and-peak tactic. It is also not included in the sunset provisions, making debate concentrate on its civil liberties influence. Representative C.L Ottor (R-Idaho) had stated that it would give the government reasons to search private residences, and also enable the CIA and NSA to operate within the region . The Congress itself argued against the provision due to its violation of the Fourth Amendment, stopping its funds from being passed . Keenan (2005) had also stated Sections 215 and 505 of the PATRIOT Act to be controversial given the nature of both provisions. In Section 215, it expands government power to seize information from third-party record holders without requiring the FBI to state their purpose of seeing such information and issuing a gag order. Section 505 of the Act works hand in hand with Section 215, adding the removal of requirements to review information (national security letters). Supporters of both sections state that it would enable the government to access records of suspected individuals and improve information gathering.
Opponents on the other hand for both Sections 215 and 505 argue that it violates the First Amendment of the country, the right to free speech. The provisions also violate the Fourth Amendment, which covers the requirement of probable cause as each person has the right to keep their records private unless the government can provide reasons for conducting such concerns .
At present, the PATRIOT Act remains under scrutiny despite the act’s intensions in improving America’s fighting chance against terrorist. On the one hand, the act is beneficial as it would improve law enforcement agencies to monitor possible threats and eliminate them before it could be enacted. However, the very nature of the Act’s provisions for law enforcement would breach people’s rights and civil liberties as their every move would be monitored by the government, violating their privacy and human rights to give consent. Possible abuses to this new power from the law enforcement branches of the US may put the citizens and foreigners within the country in danger as information may be used against them. The US government should reconsider any legislation or proposal that is aimed to “protect the country” as it should not affect their civil rights and liberties.
Addicott, J. (2004). Terrorism Law: The Rule of Law and the War on Terror. Tucson: Lawyers and Judges Publishing Company.
Cassel, E. (2007). The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
Hastedt, G. (2003). Espionage: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
Keenan, K. (2005). Invasion of Privacy: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.