The USA Patriot Act refers to an Act of Congress that was enacted into law in 2001 to fight terrorism and prevent terrorist attacks (“Highlights of the USA PATRIOT Act,” n.d). It was signed into law by President W. Bush following the September 11, 2001 attacks that devastated America. Since its passage, the law has been very controversial. Proponents argue that it is necessary because it helps the American security agencies avert terrorist attacks (“Highlights of the USA PATRIOT Act,” n.d). On the other hand, opponents argue that it infringes on the civil liberties of American citizens.
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Origins and Development of the Patriot Act in Congress
The PATRIOT Act was passed into law after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that left many Americans dead and seriously injured (“Highlights of the USA PATRIOT Act,” n.d). The aim of passing the law was to enhance anti-terrorism initiatives and efforts and prevent similar attacks in the future.
Support and Opposition
The Patriot Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush even though some of the members highly its enactment. Despite the opposition, the Act was passed by the Senate98-1, and 357-66 in the House of Representatives (Scheppler, 2005). Russ Feingold was the only person who opposed the bill. Among the 66 people who opposed the law in the House, 66 were Democrats and 3 were Republicans (Scheppler, 2005). The law was supported by members from across the political spectrum and did not involve supporting factions from the leading parties.
The Patriot Act has undergone three authorizations: in 2005, 2006, and 2010. The first reauthorization, the USA PATRIOT and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005 created new provisions that awarded death penalties to terrorists, developed new measures to fight financial terrorism and gave more powers to the Secret Service (Scheppler, 2005). It also improved security at seaports among other provisions. The second reauthorization, the USA PATRIOT Act Additional Reauthorizing Amendments Act of 2006 was aimed at amending the first act. In 2010, President Barack Obama extended three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act (Scheppler, 2005). The three provisions had been set to expire but President Obama signed a law that extended them for one year. In 2011, President Obama passed into law the Patriot Sunsets Extensions Act that extended three critical provisions of the legislation (Spindlove & Simonsen, 2013).
The Patriot Act has been amended several times. The second reauthorization act was passed to amend the first act. Section 206 and section 215 were changed to sunset in 2009. Section 215 was amended further to give more the FBI Director, the FBI Deputy Director, and the Executive Assistant Director for National Security power for greater judicial review and oversight regarding access to business records (Scheppler, 2005). The amendment also allowed the defendant to communicate with their Attorney. Other amendments were made to the roving wiretap provisions. Section 213 was also amended as it was seen as unreasonable.
Three of the most controversial provisions of the act include sections 206, 213, 215, and 805.
According to Section 215, the FBI Director can apply for the production of tangible things that can be used in an investigation to collect foreign intelligence information (“Uniting and strengthening America,” 2001). The government can only apply for the production of things that can be obtained through a court order. Proponents argue that the provision facilitates the collection of intelligence and as a result, supports anti-terrorism initiatives (Scheppler, 2005). On the contrary, opponents argue that the government uses the provision to infringe on the civil liberties of individuals (Scheppler, 2005). For instance, the government has used the provision to collect information involving phone calls such as when the call was made and to whom it was made. Law enforcement agencies have compelled telecommunication companies to present massive amounts of data that cannot be obtained through a court order.
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Section 206 gives the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) the authority to order roving or multi-point surveillance foe individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities (“Uniting and strengthening America,” 2001). The provision allows a single wiretap authorization to tap several devices used by suspects. Proponents argue that the provision is important because it makes the process of dealing with technologically complex terrorists easy (Scheppler, 2005). On the other hand, opponents argue that the provision’s language can be exploited by the government to violate the privacy of individuals especially those who interact with suspects (Scheppler, 2005).
This section allows law enforcement agencies to conduct “sneak and peek’ searches in homes and business premises of suspects (“Uniting and strengthening America,” 2001). The provision eliminates the need to notify the target of an ongoing probe. Proponents argue that the provision allows law enforcement officers to conduct effective searches because of a lack of prior notice (Scheppler, 2005). Notifying targets of search warrants would compromise investigations. Opponents argue that the provision has a very wide scope because it applies to both minor and major crimes (Scheppler, 2005). They argue that it should be applied to major crimes such as terrorism and espionage.
This section bans the offering of any material, expert advice, or personnel assistance to terrorists (“Uniting and strengthening America,” 2001). Proponents argue that the provision is important because it cuts off the financial and technical networks of support that promote terrorism. In that regard, terrorist organizations cannot function properly without financial and expert assistance. On the contrary, opponents argue that the provision is vague can easily lead to guilt by association (Scheppler, 2005). It makes it easy for individuals to get criminalized for unwittingly contacting or associating with terrorist groups. Besides, the provision stifles free speech. Any charitable contribution could be deemed as material support offered to a terrorist group.
Overall Assessment of the Act
The Patriot Act was passed into law after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It has been effective in fighting terrorism because since then, America has not experienced a similar incident (Scheppler, 2005). Therefore, it is right to state that the Act has been beneficial to American society. It allows counterterrorism agents to use tools that have been used by law enforcement agencies for many decades while posing little risk to civil liberties (“Highlights of the USA PATRIOT Act,” n.d). For example, the roving wiretaps provision features strict safeguards that prevent agents from committing violations of the law. The Act has made fighting terrorism easier. For example, it is now easier to monitor “lone wolves” than it was before 9/11 (Spindlove & Simonsen, 2013).
The Patriot Act is a legislation that has made America safer by fighting terrorism organizations around the globe. Many people have opposed the law by claiming that it contains several provisions that can be used by law enforcement agencies to violate the civil liberties of Americans. However, the provisions contain strict safeguards that keep violations to the minimum. Also, the law allows agencies to use tools that have been used by law enforcement agencies for many decades.
Highlights of the USA PATRIOT Act. (n.d). Web.
Scheppler, B. (2005). The USA Patriot Act: Antiterror legislation in response to 9/11. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.
Spindlove, J. R., & Simonsen, C. E. (2013). Terrorism today: The past, the players, the future (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.