The USA Patriot Act was put into effect to allow the United States to be more efficient when it comes to stopping and preventing terrorism. The Patriot Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001 by President Bush. This act was put into place shortly after the September 11 attacks to strengthen our country’s security. It allowed law enforcement greater freedom when it comes to conducting investigations on terrorism. The Patriot Act changed the way and increased the freedom of the government when conducting terrorist investigations. It allows the government to investigate into individuals without their knowledge, search their property without their knowledge, and allows financial institutions to monitor their customers banking accounts without their knowledge. The Act also places harsher punishments on terrorists and also makes it easier for them to punish individuals who are guilty of conspiracy to commit terrorism (USA PATRIOT Act). All of these put together make it easier for the government to fight and protect this country from terrorism.
The constitutionality of the Patriot Act is to protect the individuals who live in this country. The law does not give the government the right or privlage to spy on innocent Americans. What the Patriot Act does is insure the security of those who live in this country. One aspect of the Patriot Act states that privacy is not unlimited. The Supreme Court has stated that Americans can expect a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, this does not mean individuals are given unlimited amounts of privacy. The court also stated that anything an individual has exposed to the public, or a third party, is not protected and therefore not considered privacy. Some individuals have stated that they believe the Patriot Act to be considered unconstitutional, however, no court has ever deemed any part of the Act to be considered unconstitutional. It clearly states the rights that both the individual and the government has when it comes to investigations. Congress has also modified and tailored the act several times to insure the constitutionally of the Act (McNeill, 2011).
There are several principle functions of the Patriot Act. The first is communications. The Patriot Act does allow law enforcement to monitor communication to predict or prevent terrorist activities. The Act still requires law enforcement to monitor their activity, however, they are given more leniency when it comes to obtaining necessary information. The Patriot Act also gives federal acts greater flexibility when monitoring foreign nations (Doyle, 2005).
The Patriot Act also gives bank greater power when it comes to their customers. The Act gives banks and other financial institutions the ability to monitor and gather information about different bank accounts. It also grants financial institutions the right to make it more difficult to open a bank account, especially without proper verification. Financial institutions are now required to report large transactions made by single individuals. Transactions over 10,000 dollars must be reported to the federal government. Furthermore, if an individual receives over 10,000 dollars from an outside source, these transactions must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service. These transactions must be reported even if the money is not deposited into the individuals account. Lastly, if the individual has a criminal history of drug-related or terrorist-related crimes, any transaction over 5,000 dollars must be reported. This is all due to the fact that terrorist generally have access to large amounts of funds (Doyle, 2005).
Furthermore, the Patriot Act gives more freedom when it comes to search warrants. Search warrants for terrorist activities are not like the conventional search warrant. Before the Act, search warrants must be shown to the property owner before law enforcement can enter the premises. The property owner must be made away that their property is being searched. Now, individuals who are subject to a terrorism investigations do not need to be notified that their property is being searched. The Patriot Act prevents the individual from from knowing their property is or has been searched. In fact, if law enforcement takes an object out of the property for the investigation that object is often replaced so the property owner does not know their property is in the middle of an investigation (Doyle, 2005).
Lastly, the Patriot Act increase the penalties for those individuals who commit terrorist crimes. The Patriot Act imposes penalties on individuals who both commit and/or support terrorist operations. This applies to individuals who commit acts of terrorism both at home and abroad. The act does this in several ways. First, it prohibits the harboring of terrorist. The Act created new offenses for anyone who knowingly harbors individuals who committed or who are about to commit crimes of terror. These types of crimes can consist of individuals who are getting ready to destruct aircrafts, use nuclear weapons, bomb government property. Secondly, the Act increases the maximum penalties for any crimes of terror. It also enhanced a number of conspiracy penalties. Before the Patriot Act, the law did not specifically prohibit the act of engaging in conspiracy to commit terrorism. The law was only allowed to prosecute under the general conspiracy provision instead of terrorism. The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years in person. The Act also increased punishments to terrorist attacks on mass transit systems and eliminated the statute of limitations on crimes of terrorism (USA PATRIOT Act).
Changes in Federal Law
The Patriot Act changed several aspects of Federal Law. It mainly increased the ability of law enforcement when it comes to crimes of terror. For example, law enforcement was allowed to use surveillance for non-terrorism crimes (drugs, fraud, etc.). After the Patriot Act passed, law enforcement was allowed to use surveillance against crimes of terror. The Act gave law enforcement the power to use a full range of surveillance and different ways of gathering information for terrorism-related crimes. These crimes consists of: weapon offenses, using weapons for mass destructions, and killing Americans abroad (USA PATRIOT Act).
The Patriot Act also allows federal agents to be trained to evade detection. Prior to the Act, law enforcement was able to use advance technology when it came to ordinary crimes such as drug and racketeering offenses. However, international terrorist are highly sophisticated when it comes to technology. This technology sometimes succeeds American’s technology and America is not able to have the same advantages as they do with criminals inside the country. The Patriot Act allows for law enforcement agents to seek and obtain similar technologies for national security to track terrorists (USA PATRIOT Act).
Another way federal law has changed is by the way law enforcement conducts investigations. The Patriot Act allows law enforcement to conduct investigations without letting their terrorist targets know. The Act gives them the ability to fully look into a subject without letting them have any knowledge they are being investigated. When individuals gain knowledge they are being investigated, they tend to flee or destroy important evidence regarding the case. Under this act, federal courts allow law enforcement to delay search warrants for terrorist related activity. This gives law enforcement more time to look into their subject’s life and their associates. It eliminates immediate threats by arresting all individuals involved at one time. If law enforcement moves in too soon, they may only have enough information to arrest one individual, leaving the rest of the group available to complete the terrorist activity (USA PATRIOT Act). These delays have been proven successful when it comes to drug and other domestic crimes and is now deemed constitution by the United States court system.
The Act also changed the way search warrants are issued. Before the Act, law enforcement was required to obtain search warrants from the district where they intended to search. However, terrorism investigations are often times spread out over a large space that spans into multiple districts. This means that law enforcement was required to retrieve search warrants from every county they needed to search property. This would cause huge delays when it came to conducting terrorism investigations. Now, the Patriot Act only requires law enforcement to obtain search warrants from any district for where the terrorist activity has occurred, regardless of where they will be executed. This helps increase the process and law enforcement are able to search property faster and more efficiently (USA PATRIOT Act).
The last way the federal law has changed is that it now allows the federal agents to obtain business records for national security terrorism cases. Business records generally provide key information when it comes to solving wide range of cases. For terrorism, pulling business records from different business tells law enforcement who purchased certain material from different stores that may be used to create bombs. It can also predict whether or not the business itself is conducting terrorist activities. Law enforcement have always been able to have access to business records through grand jury subpoenas and are now able to obtain these types of records for national security cases. Before the Patriot Act, law enforcement was not able to obtain business records for terrorist reasons because a grand jury was not necessary. Now, the government can obtain these records through the federal court instead of the grand jury. However, the government must prove that it is necessary to obtain these records due to national security (USA PATRIOT Act).
The first major issue is that some individuals feel like the Patriot Act is unconstitutional and evades individual rights. Individuals feel like the government does not have a right to listen on to their personal phone conversations or read their personal emails. Also, people do not like the fact that the government can search their property without making them aware of it. Overall, people find the Patriot Act violates their individual constitutional rights.
The Patriot Act does give the government the ability to search personal information about an individual and look into their private lives. This includes reading their emails and listening to their phone calls. The problem with this is that some individuals find this breaches First and Fourth Amendment rights (First Amendment is the right to freedom expression and the Fourth Amendment rights protecting against search and seizure). However, as stated above, Congress has stated that individuals should expect reasonable amount of privacy. The government is not going to listen to a person’s conversation unless they believe they are engaging in terrorist activities. Furthermore, the government could already do this if the individual was under investigation for a lesser crime such as a drug offense. Therefore, the Patriot Act is not unconstitutional (McNeill, 2011).
Without the implantation of the Patriot Act, it would be almost impossible for America to prevent another attack like 9/11. What the Act does is insure the protection and security of those who live inside this country. The Act allows the government to prevent, investigate and prosecute acts of terror on this country. It also allows law enforcement more leniencies when it comes to conducting terrorism investigations. These investigations are given the same freedom as when conducting other domestic crimes, such as drug or organized crimes. The Patriot Act was established to make sure another September 11 attack never happens again. It does make it easier for the government to investigate individual, making some believe their constitutional rights are being violated. The government is given the ability to listen to telephone calls and read emails. However, without the Patriot Act there would be no way for the government to ensure another attack does not happen on this country again. The Patriot Act is necessary to ensure the protection and freedom of those living in the United States.
Doyle, C. (2005). The USA Patriot Act: A Sketch. Foreign Press Center.
McNeill, J. (2011). The patriot act and the constitution: five key points. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/02/the-patriot-act-and-the constitution-five-key-points
The USA PATRIOT Act: Preserving Life and Liberty (n.d.). Preserving Life & Liberty. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/archive/ll/highlights.htm