Term Paper: Patriot Act the USA

Pages: 5 (1739 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Terrorism

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Patriot Act

The USA Patriot Act, commonly referred to as the Patriot Act, was signed into law on October 26, 2001 just 45 days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City (USA Patriot Act). The Act expanded the authority of U.S. law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute terrorism (USA Patriot Act). Many of the act's provisions were set to sunset on December 31, 2005 (USA Patriot Act). Given the horrific shock and fear following September 11th, the need for an immediate reponse to terrorism and perhaps the feeling that the Act could be fixed a short-time later because of the sunset clause, the Patriot Act received overwhelming endoresement even though it greatly weakened civil liberties provided by the U.S. Constitution. With the firm conviction that less freedom means greater safety, our lawmakers have ignored the Constituion and have written what they believe should be the appropriate process for dealing with terrorism.

The Patriot Act received broad support across the political spectrum, passing in the Senate by a vote of 98 to 1 and in the House by a vote of 357 to 66 (USA Patriot Act overview). Advocates of the Patriot Act such as the Department of Justice argued that the Act made changes that were necessary to combat terrorism such as allowing the use of electronic surveillance, information sharing across agencies and stiffer penalties (the U.S.A. Patriot Act: Preserving life and liberty). While law enforcement could engage in electronic surveillance to investigate crimes by the mafia and drug dealers, it could not use this very same surveillance for many terrorist crimes such as the use of weapons of mass destruction, financing terrorists, and chemical-weapons violations. The Patriot Act removed these ridiculous restrictions. Further, the Patriot Act facilitated information sharing and cooperation across government agencies by removing legal restrictions on this communication that had existed before the Patriot Act. and, the Patriot Act increased penalties for acts of terrorism such as arson, providing support to terrorists and the destruction of national-defense materials. The Act also made the harboring of terrorists an offense.

Some supporters of the Patriot Act acknowledge that other provisions of the Act such as Section 213 and 215, discussed in detail later in this document, do not fully comply with the Fourth Amendment. Even so, they still support the Patriot Act. On the matter of Constitutional protections, defenders of the Patriot Act say,

The balance between civil liberties and security is not a zero-sum game. Thus, it is vital to realize that there are significant factors weighing on both the civil liberty and national security sides of the scale. That is why, for example, the courts have recognized that in the national security context, the requirements of the Fourth Amendment apply somewhat differently than they do in the context of domestic law enforcement." (Rosenzweig, Kochems, and Carafano, 2004)

Post September 11th, there is a strong feeling among those in favor of the Patriot Act that that the way our law enforcement system operations must change to meet new realities. There is the belief that, "We simply cannot afford a rule that "better 10 terrorists go undetected than that the conduct of 1 innocent be mistakenly examined." (Rosenzweig, 2004).

However, those that are against the Patriot Act are very concerned that it threatens basic constitution rights guaranteed to American citizens and disturbs our system of checks and balances by: "diminishing personal privacy by removing important checks on government surveillance authority; "expanding the definition of 'terrorism' in a manner that threatens the constitutionally protected rights of Americans; and "seriously eroding the right of all persons to due process of law." (Strom, 2004) Eight states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana and Vermont) and 396 cities and counties (including New York City; Los Angeles; Dallas; Chicago; Eugen, Oregon; Philadelphia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts have passed resolutions condemning the Act for attacking civil liberties (USA Patriot Act). According to Gallup Poll statistics, public support for the Act has waned over time. In 2003, sixty-nine percent of Americans polled felt that the Act had not gone too far in violating civil liberties, but by 2005 this number declined to forty-nine percent (USA Patriot Act). This number might actually be higher if Americans were educated about the Act. In 2005, the gallup poll revealed that twenty-nine percent of the survey respondents said they knew nothing about the Act while another twenty-eight percent admintted to knowing very little (USA Patriot Act).

Of most concern to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights groups, is Section 215 of the Patriot Act which allows the FBI to obtain secret warrants from the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for business records or other tangile items of anyone suspected of international terrorism or spying (USA Patriot Act). Prior to the Patriot Act, the Fourth Amendment to the Constituion, Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and case law required a warrant and probable cause to access private records (Lithwick and Turner, 2003). The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) had authorized warrantless surveillance for obtaining foreign intelligence information, but required judicial oversight (Lithwick and Turner, 2003). Now, according to Lithwick and Turner (2003) a FISA judge cannot reject an application for a search that the FBI says is to protect against terroism. This means that the government can search just about any peronsal information, financial, library, travel, video rental, phone and religious records, without a person's knowledge or consent as long as the government claims that it is trying to protect against terrorism (Lithwick and Turner, 2003). In essence, the government is really writing and approving its own search warrants.

The Patriot Act also lowers standards for "sneak and peek" warrants, which are also known as delayed notice search warrants (Myths and realities about the Patriot Act, ACLU). The ACLU explains that these special warrants have long allowed investigators to enter an individual's business or dwelling to obtain limited and specific information for an investigation and notifying the individual of the search at a later time. However, Section 213 of the Patriot Act abolished the previous seven-day notification rule, replacing it with an indefinite "reasonable time." and, Section 213 changed the conditions under which notice may be delayed, substituting the requirement to show probable cause with the requirement to show reasonable cause.

This is an important distinction because "probable cause" implies that a crime has already been committed while reasonable may simply imply the planning of a crime (Probable cause). The Fourth Amendment gives, "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause..." (Probable cause) Therefore, Section 213 is in direct confluct with the Constitution.

Opponents are also concerned that the Patriot Act prevents individuals from receiving a fair hearing. For example, the Act's restriction on access to information limits the ability of defense attorney to challenge secret evidence in criminal cases and bars grand jury witness from discussing their testimony (Edgar, 2003. Yet others feel that the Patriot Act unfairly targets immigrants, even those who are lawful permanent residents (Edgar, 2003). The Act allows for summary deportations of these people without evidence of crime, criminal intent or terrorism if the Attorney General deems them to be a threat to national security.

The original Act's sunset clause has led to a reauthorization resolution passed in March, 2006 that added civil liberties protections (USA Patriot Act). For example, the 2006 resolution now allows a FISA court judge to deny or modify a Section 215 search warrant request and requires the personal approval of the FBI Director, Deputy Director or Official-in-Charge of Intelligence (USA Patriot Act). and, the new resolution requires a 30-day notice for Section 13 sneak and peak warrants (USA Patriot Act). Still, the probable cause and due process issues presented by the original Patriot Act remain.

While there are certainly some-long needed changes brought about by the Patriot Act, it's clear that it went too far in weakening civil liberties. The passage of the Act is reminiscent of the creation of Japanese interment camps during World War II when the United States was in frenzy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Only much later, would Americans come to realize the tremendous injustice that had been done to the civil liberties of these U.S. citizens. Fear had driven this over reaction and fear has once again reared its ugly head in the aftermath of September 11th. After this tragedy, it has become acceptable to take away constitutional protections such as probable cause and due process with a feeling that the alternatives would be far more injurious to Americans.

With the 2006 reauthorization resolution, time has allowed more reasonable thinking than in the post-September 11th environment and this has translated into some meaningful changes to protect Constitutional rights. However, much more is still needed; hopefully, time… [END OF PREVIEW]

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