The USA Patriot Act is legislation passed focused on providing law enforcement with tools and abilities to intercept and prevent terrorist acts. It is a multifaceted law that first ensures that law enforcement can use tools of surveillance against figures of interest, including electronic surveillance, following potential terrorist investigations, and obtaining various records. Second, the act seeks to foster information sharing among federal agencies to improve law enforcement investigations and activities. The Patriot Act was introduced after September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on October 2, 2001, and signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. It had overwhelming bipartisan support, passing almost unanimously in Congress with 357-66 in the House and 98-1 in the Senate (“The USA Patriot Act: Preserving Life and Liberty”).
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It can be argued that the rapid passage of the Patriot Act can be justified by the manipulation of public opinion and a range of highly unorthodox tools for both policymaking and national security. It was a political measure, and for most politicians, voting against the act would seem un-American and jeopardize their re-election. Therefore, the law quickly passed through Congress amid some concerns from Democrats, but most were pressured by public opinion to support the law, even without fully reading it (Blumenthal).
The Patriot Act is considered a feat in American legislation, which had never up-to-date and ever since pass such a large piece of policy in such a short amount of time as Congress converted the policy into law in less than a month. This is concerning considering vital the legislation is and how far it goes in violating certain personal freedoms that Americans value. However, this quick passage was contributed to a convergence of three principles that ultimately led to such overwhelming bipartisanship.
First, the national security framework was outdated, and there were gaping holes in law enforcement tools and collaboration; it was a problem that needed to be addressed. Second, the 9/11 attacks shook the nation, and there was an overwhelming public and political outcry to address the safety of Americans and prevent further terrorisms. Finally, the Patriot Act presented bullish and aggressive measures of policy that built upon the previous two concerns and presented highly effective methods of dealing with terrorism (Damania 44).
Several sections of the Patriot Act were especially concerning. Section 215 of the act allows for the collection of “tangible things” for intelligence investigation, which includes records, documents, and others. In turn, it has been used to collect in bulk metadata such as telephone records and web data of U.S. citizens, considered illegal by many. Section 206 allows for following a target for the purposes of surveillance, with roving surveillance, such as outside certain facilities or perimeters available.
Critics suggest the provision provides broad powers of surveillance to the intelligence community, including wiretapping communications without proper permissions or even identifications. Finally, Section 6001 broadens the scope of surveillance, allowing to observe and investigate any persons potentially engaged in international terrorism. Known as the “lone wolf” provision, it helps to follow individuals since previous FISA regulations only allowed investigations if there was a proven connection to a foreign power or terrorist investigation (Zheng).
The Patriot Act gives the government and law enforcement agencies broad power of surveillance against persons believed to be engaged in terrorist-related activity. The government can track internet usage, including visited websites, social media, and potentially personal communications on messengers. Furthermore, law enforcement agencies can gain access to financial records to track spending habits or unusual purchases. Finally, travel patterns are tracked to determine if the person of interest has visited places where they may have come in contact with extremism or received terrorist training (“Surveillance Under The USA/Patriot Act”).
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Blumenthal, Paul. “Congress Had No Time to Read the USA PATRIOT Act.” Sunlight Foundation. 2009. Web.
Damania, Siddharth. “The Perfect Storm: The Politics, Policies, And People of The USA Patriot Act. Social Sciences. 2012. Web.
“Surveillance Under The USA/Patriot Act.” ACLU. Web.
“The USA Patriot Act: Preserving Life and Liberty.” Department of Justice. Web.
Zheng, Denise E. “Electronic Surveillance After Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.” CSIS, 2015. Web.