Patriot Act

Patriot Act

“We’re charged with the security of the country, and if we can’t share information between vital agencies, we’re not going to be able to do our job. So, the first thing I want you to think about when you hear the Patriot Act is that we changed the law and the bureaucratic mindset to allow for the sharing of information. It’s vital.” – George W Bush.

The USA PATRIOT Act acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001” was signed into law by United States President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001, after the tragic September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It significantly expanded the search and surveillance powers of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The USA PATRIOT Act made various revisions to existing statutes on the privacy of telephone and electronic communications, the control of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, money laundering, immigration, and other areas. It also established a multitude of new crimes and raised penalties for existing ones.

The draft legislation submitted to Congress expanded the powers of the government to surveil, investigate, and detain suspected terrorists. Amendments were made to the Wiretap Act, which had prohibited eavesdropping by the government unless authorized by court order only in cases of serious crimes. Court orders for such surveillance no longer required probable cause, but only certification by the government that the data was relevant to an ongoing investigation.

Cooperation was promoted between law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in cases involving terrorism using Section 203 which allowed government attorneys to reveal matters before a federal grand jury when an investigation was related to “foreign intelligence or counterintelligence.” Section 213 permitted “sneak and peek” searches, in which notification of the target is delayed and could be extended indefinitely until after the search has been executed.

Other provisions of the act made crucial changes to the way the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorized electronic surveillance and physical searches targeting foreign powers or their agents. Section 218 no longer required that the government certifies in its applications the exact purpose. Section 215 eliminated a FISA provision that restricted the kind of records which the authorities could warrant businesses to produce, replacing it with a blanket cover on any information warranted without even disclosing the intent of the inquiry. Section 505 allowed the FBI to declare subpoenas based on a certification that the information needed is for an international terrorism investigation. Roving electronic surveillance was also permitted.

The USA PATRIOT Act also increased the powers of the Secretary of the Treasury to battle money laundering; tripled the number of border patrol, customs service, and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) personnel along the northern U.S. border; authorized new clauses for detainment or deportation of foreign nationals if suspected of terrorism; changed the definition of “material support” for terrorist organizations to include “expert advice or assistance”; and established new terrorist atrocities, including attacking a mass transit system.

Critics of the USA PATRIOT Act argue that several parts of the statute were unconstitutional or encouraged abuse by federal authorities. Section 215 violated the privacy guidelines of the Fourth Amendment by allowing warrantless searches without the disclosure of the target, even after the search was completed. Section 218 efficiently permitted the FBI to lead surveillance of U.S. citizens without proof or probable cause of criminal activity. Critics also believe that Section 215 and Section 505 violates and undermines the First Amendment rights.

Patriot Act extended intelligence gathering capabilities including monitoring of foreign financial activities, arresting and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism, wiretaps, business record searches, and tracking of individuals suspected of terrorist activities.

Proponents of the Patriot Act consider it an essential influence in fighting terrorism. Opponents find it highly intrusive and view it as an attack upon personal freedoms, rights, and liberties of American citizens.

What are your thoughts? Do you support the Patriot act?

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