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The Patriotic Act – Is It Worth It?

The Patriot Act is a law that allows federal services and law enforcement agencies to exert greater authority when tracking and intercepting suspecting agents of hostile intelligence services, criminals, and potential terrorists (Etzioni, 2015). It also allows the Secretary of Treasury to affect operations regarding foreign money to prevent terrorism (Etzioni, 2015). Though these actions are done in the name of safety and security, they have generated controversy in the political and scholarly circles, as privacy considerations of individual US citizens were compromised. Some of the examples of such compromises include the creation of secret courts that do not exist under direct control of the public, which are used to obtained warrants to spy on individual citizens through the Internet and phone calls (Etzioni, 2015). Warrantless methods of private data collection are also covered by the Patriot Act.

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There are several pros and cons to the Act as described by the academics. Some of the pros include the increased ability to detect, prevent, and prosecute terrorism (Haner et al., 2020). In theory, government agencies facing less hurdles towards data collection should be more effective in spotting potential terrorist activity in the US. Second, the Act allows for greater control over the operations performed by foreign financial institutions (Haner et al., 2020). These measures make it more difficult to sponsor terrorist and espionage activities in the US through foreign entities. Finally, same mechanisms can be used to prevent corruption and money laundering, which would be more difficult to do with federal and government services’ increased hold over finances (Haner et al., 2020).

The cons of the Act are also numerous, and lie largely in the field of civil rights and privacy protection. First, it removes some of the checks and balances on the government, allowing for its powers to be used in an unlawful manner (Beauchamp, 2018). It completely bypasses the need for a court warrant to collect sensitive and private data on people. It also mitigates public oversight, meaning that corruption and misuse of information becomes a lot more likely. The second issue with the Act is that it allows to target individuals not under criminal investigation (Beauchamp, 2018). That makes it a potential instrument to oppress and terrorize potential political adversaries – something that had happened in other countries where similar provisions are allowed. Unlawful imprisonment is another issue associated with the Act (Beauchamp, 2018). Finally, the existence of such provisions creates polarization in the communities and adds to the political strife currently going on in the country, dividing people and setting them against one another (Beauchamp, 2018).

The problematic issues with the Act, as highlighted by scholars, are as follows: lowered accountability of government agencies, the potential to be used to collect compromising data on citizens and political opponents, the ability to arrest undesirable figures at will, without a court hearing, the ability to racially and gender-profile people and collect data on them based on that profiling, and finally the further radicalization of the society as a result of the Act existing (Nolte, 2019). All of these issues constitute a liability for the US government and its people. At the same time, the effectiveness of the Act at stopping terrorists remains a contested subject. The Obama Administration did claim in 2015 that the Act helped prevent many terrorist activities in the US, while the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which reviewed the program a year earlier, found no evidence of it being helpful (Nolte, 2019). Thus, the necessity of the Act’s existence in its present (or altered) form remains questionable.

References

Beauchamp, T. (2018). In security. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 24(1), 13-17.

Etzioni, A. (2015). How patriotic is the Patriot Act?: Freedom versus security in the age of terrorism. Routledge.

Haner, M., Sloan, M. M., Cullen, F. T., Graham, A., Lero Jonson, C., Kulig, T. C., & Aydın, Ö. (2020). Making America safe again: Public support for policies to reduce terrorism. Deviant Behavior, 1-19.

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Nolte, W. (2019). US intelligence and its future: Aligning with a new and complex environment. Intelligence and National Security, 34(4), 615-618.

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