Patriot Act

 “Patriot Act”

The USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) entered the new millenium of America as an outcome to the catastrophic, cunning and devastated terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Act was enacted with virtually unprecedented speed, with only six weeks elapsing between the Bush Administration's initial proposal of anti-terrorism legislation and the enactment of the bill in its final form. Under the pretense of enhancing national security, the USA PATRIOT Act concentrates on the increased new powers in the executive branch of government, while decreasing judicial oversight. These measures included:

A. Creation of a New Crime

Section 802 of the Act creates a new federal crime of “domestic terrorism,” which includes any dangerous acts that “appear to be intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” Broadly applied, this could be used to silence any political dissent critical of government policies. The Act refers to all those efforts helpful in the eradication of “terrorism attacks” by military tribunals, the attorney-client stuff and the people being held on secret charges whose names are kept undeclared.

B. Diminished Due Process for Immigrants

Section 411 of the Act expands the term “engage in terrorist activity” to include any use of a weapon, as well as such nonviolent acts as fund-raising for suspect organizations. Moreover, it allows for the detention or removal of non-citizens with little or no judicial review. The U.S. Attorney General and Secretary of State can claim a domestic group to be a terrorist organization, and can deport any non-citizen members. Because of this provision the Government has to trade off the rights and liberties of a vulnerable minority, immigrants, in particular Arab and Muslim immigrants, for the purported security of the rest of the U.S citizens. And just to give a little specificity to this, the PATRIOT Act makes immigrants deportable for wholly innocent associations. Before the PATRIOT Act, if you were investigating someone for a crime, you had to show probable cause of criminal activity in order to get that wiretap or in order to conduct that search. Under the PATRIOT Act, the government can avoid the probable cause requirement and do an end run by going the foreign intelligence route, which does not require probable cause of a crime. All they have to do is show the person as an agent of a foreign power. However the Provision is in favour of security of USA citizens but it is going to be used almost exclusively against immigrants, and it’s not in any way, shape, or form limited to terrorist investigations or terrorist crimes.

C. Diminished Privacy

The Act severely curtails the right to privacy at several turns, including broadening the grounds for increased surveillance and wiretap authority, sneak-and-peek searches, tracking Internet usage and accessing private records. As a powerful tool in fighting terrorism the law enforcement community used this Bill as a way of expanding their powers far beyond the war against terrorism. One example is “sneak and peek provision,” which allows the government to conduct secret searches of anyone, including citizens, without notifying the person that they have a search warrant and that the search is authorized. The provision allows the government to delay notification for a reasonable period of time upon showing the court that notifying the individual would jeopardize the criminal investigation, a very broad standard that probably could be met in a tremendous number of cases and is not limited to fighting terrorism in any way, shape or form.

D. Lowering Standards of Probable Cause

Section 215 of the Act reduces the traditional Fourth Amendment requirements for probable cause, as previously interpreted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (“FISA”) which was initially enacted in 1978 and was itself substantially amended by the USA PATRIOT Act. In its current form, FISA governs the efforts of the government to secure judicial approval for wiretaps and physical searches seeking foreign intelligence information. FISA requires the Chief Justice of the United States to designate eleven judges “to hear applications for and grant orders approving electronic surveillance” and “physical searches for the purpose of obtaining foreign intelligence information anywhere within the United States”.

E. Sharing of Intelligence

Section 203 of the Act now permits unprecedented sharing of sensitive information across several independent agencies, including the FBI, CIA, INS, and other state and federal agencies. The USA Patriot Act is actually the outcome of Terrorism resulting in the law enforcement capabilities of September 11 and the expectations of the American citizens.

The PATRIOT Act, makes the people deportable not for engaging in terrorist activity, not for supporting terrorist activity, but for providing any kind of support whatsoever to any group which is decided to label a terrorist group, including retroactively tried to lower the barriers to recognize that in this day and age when USA is trying to prevent terrorist acts even more than we are trying to prosecute those people who commit them after they are committed, we have got to be able to exchange information and bring together all of the knowledge in the U.S. government. We can’t afford to have people lose their lives because part of the information is in one department and part is in another department and they are not talking to each other.

One critically important provision of that legislation allows prosecutors, under certain circumstances, to disclose grand jury information to any federal law enforcement, intelligence, protective, immigration, national defense, or national security official.

The USA PATRIOT Act is legislation of almost staggering scope and complexity, enacted with near-record speed, the USA PATRIOT Act addresses virtually every conceivable area of federal law enforcement authority. The Act dramatically expands the authority of federal agencies to conduct wiretapping and other electronic surveillance while simultaneously curtailing judicial oversight. The Act also increases authorization to use more conventional law enforcement tools for intelligence purposes by allowing, for example, greater access to business records and increased use of secret searches. Additionally, the Act augments and increases the authority of the Attorney General to detain and deport non-citizens who are certified as a danger to national security or who belong to certified terrorist organizations, with only minimal provision for judicial review. The Act also authorizes the sharing of domestic grand jury information with the intelligence community.

Historically, during times of crisis, it has been natural for democratic nations, including the United States, to temporarily abridge individual liberties in ways that would never be considered in more halcyon times. It is still a question to all US citizens what they should perceive about the  the USA PATRIOT Act, a temporary measure or the signal for a lasting new world order to combat a faceless enemy in the new millennium. U.S. public policies continue to unfold with international events, such as the War in Iraq, tumult in the Far and Middle East, and potential “wars and rumors of war” with other unfriendly nations. The U.S. mass media have reported intense, mixed, volatile feelings going in many directions within the U.S. public today. In such times, public opinion polls have a special value in a democratic society, to precisely gauge and analyze citizens’ views. When it comes to U.S. policy on terrorism, survey respondents of all sorts seem to expect “the other shoe to drop, be that a bio/chemical or nuclear attack” but this shoe will almost surely have dramatically different impacts on those pro-liberty or pro-security people among us. Media coverage of events is best accompanied by tracking polls, to chart how much and why the U.S. public is coalescing or further dividing on this important issue of individual liberties during crisis.

Works Cited

The USA Patriot Act : Civil Liberties, the Media and Public Opinion
Journal article by Lisa Finnegan Abdolian, Harold Takooshian; Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 30, 2003.

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Sharing Grand Jury Information with the Intelligence Community under the USA Patriot Act : Jennifer M. Collins, American Criminal Law Review. Volume: 39. Issue: 3.

The USA-PATRIOT Act and the American Response to Terror: Can We Protect Civil Liberties after September 11? American Criminal Law Review. Volume: 39. Issue: 4. 2002.

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