This is an essay I wrote for school. I know there are many sections in this Act that I did not touch, but there was a limit and it was getting a bit long. So this is just a touch on the large, ugly subject of the USA PATRIOT Act (which name was changed for the simple fact that if you don’t pass the patriot act, you obviously aren‘t a patriot.);
Patriot Act, or Paranoia Act?
During the dark, paranoid days following the terrorist attacks against the United States which took place on September 11, 2001, an act was created to grant the law enforcement officials and intelligence agencies to have expanded authority to fight future attacks on U.S. soil and to make available the tools necessary to domestically pursue the Bush administration’s war on terrorism. Loosely titled the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, it is better known as the USA Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act introduced an overabundance of modifications to over fifteen important statutes, which drastically increased the surveillance and investigative powers of law enforcement agencies in this country. Many of the electronic surveillance provisions were proposed before 9/11, however, they were subjected to a large amount of criticism and debate. John Podesta (White House Chief of Staff, 1998-2001) questioned what had changed since then-
“The events of September 11th convinced… overwhelming majorities in Congress that law enforcement and national security officials need new legal tools to fight terrorism. But we should not forget what gave rise to the original opposition- many aspects of the bill increase the opportunity for law enforcement and the intelligence community to return to an era where they monitored and sometimes harassed individuals who were merely exercising their First Amendment rights. Nothing that occurred on September 11th mandates that we return to such an era.”
Attorney General John Ashcroft gave Congress just one week to pass the bill, with no changes. Patrick Leahy (Vt. Democrat), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was able to convince the Department of Justice to concur on some changes, and members of the House began to make significant improvements. To make the process go faster, the Attorney General warned that further terrorist acts were imminent, and that Congress would be held responsible for such attacks if it failed to pass the bill immediately. The bill was then stripped of many revisions and was nearly unanimously passed; Senator Russ Feingold was the only member to object. Feingold was especially concerned with the effects the Act would have on the civil liberties of immigrants. The act was passed in the House of Representatives with a 357 to 66 margin. On October 26, 2001, President George Bush signed the Act, putting it into effect.
What exactly is the Patriot Act? John Ashcroft summarized it to this:
“Prosecutors will seek judicial authority to intercept communications related to an expanded list of terrorism-related crimes such as: the development, possession, or use of chemical or biological weapons; financial transaction with a terrorist government; or providing material support to terrorists or terrorist organizations. Investigators will use ‘roving’ wiretaps to intercept communications and thereby thwart the ability of terrorists to evade surveillance by switching phones or communication devices.”
“Investigators will now aggressively pursue terrorists on the internet. The legislation permits investigators to obtain senders’ and receivers’ e-mail addresses just as it is done with telephone surveillance. Terrorists employ sophisticated technologies to evade detection and the legislation updates the law to the technology. Investigators will use search warrants to obtained unopened voice mail and e-mail.”
What he didn’t say here is that under the Patriot Act, warrants are much easier to obtain, and approves undisclosed search warrants without prompt notification. These conditions are an attack on the Fourth Amendment, which is a protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
“New subpoena power will enable authorities to obtain payment information, such as credit card or bank account numbers, of suspected terrorists on the internet. This will allow investigators to identify the terrorist who hides behind a fictitious internet name.”
Through the Patriot act, the FBI is permitted to order any person to turn over, without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, “any tangible things”. These tangible things include library records, e-mails, business records, medical records, and student information, as long as the FBI specifies that the information will be provided in “an authorized investigation”. This is a clear and present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights.
“Investigators will be able to use a single court order to trace a communication nationwide, even when it travels beyond the judicial district that issued the order. The scope of search warrants for unopened e-mail and other evidence will also be nationwide. This improved efficiency will save hours or days in investigations where seconds matter.”
“Law enforcement and intelligence committees will share information on terrorist activities and thus better coordinate their efforts to prevent terrorism.”
Therefore, you could see that the USA Patriot Act was disguised as a instrument to be used against terror, but the government is using it whenever they feel it’s necessary. Mark Corallo, the Department of Justice spokesman, has said that, “The Patriot Act was not meant to be just for terrorism.”
According to a study by Newsweek, the government has used the Patriot Act to conduct searches on 962 American citizens. Of those, two-thirds were in money-laundering cases with no apparent terror connection. This act has a strange resemblance to George Orwell’s 1984, in which the government watched over everything the citizens did.
With such infractions to our Constitution, it is amazing that this Act was passed. What does George Bush have to say about the Patriot Act? “The Patriot Act defends our liberty.” This quotation amused me because it immediately reminded me of Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “Those who are willing to give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And we do sacrifice our freedom with the Patriot Act, as I have said before, there are sections and titles in the Act that are direct threats to our Constitutional and privacy rights. Back to George Bush’s quote; whose liberty does the Patriot Act defend? It looks like just the people who run this country, because everyone is at risk, anyone is a “potential terrorist”.
The Patriot Act is set to expire in 2005, and what really disturbs me is that George Bush has tried to convince (and most likely is still) Congress to renew the law. Not only that though, he wishes to make interminable all of its provisions, as well as approve additional ones.
Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are aware of these threats and in October 2001 sent a letter to all House of Representative’s members, urging the bill’s defeat. In that letter, the ACLU said;
“While the bill contains provisions that we support, the American Civil Liberties Union believes that the USA Patriot Act gives the attorney general and federal law enforcement unnecessary and permanent new powers to violate civil liberties that go far beyond the stated goal of fighting international terrorism.”
Such protests were disregarded.
What is John Kerry’s stance on the Patriot Act? Kerry’s view on the Act may seem confusing, as senator for Massachusetts he voted for the Act, now he is against it. He feels that the Act has been mistreated. John Kerry is quoted as saying:
“I will replace the Patriot Act because the spirit of the law has been abused by the (John) Ashcroft Justice Department. I’ll scale back several provisions to assure our security doesn’t come at the expense of our civil liberties.”
He feels that we must make some changes:
“We must stop indefinitely detaining American citizens and give basic rights to those who are detained. American citizens should have the right to a lawyer and foreign citizens should be given the right to hearings to determine their status.”
“We need more oversight of ‘sneak and peak’ searches to assure strong safeguards on the use of roving wiretaps and seizing of library and business records.”
“We need to use terrorism laws to combat terrorism and not in ordinary criminal cases, or to send the FBI to churches or anti-war demonstrations.”
“We need to mandate regular reporting to Congress of all anti-terrorism activities and follow established protocols to privacy and security.”
One of the only sites that was positive toward the Patriot Act was titled Preserving Life and Liberty, and was run by the government. All of the other sites were either biased against or had non influenced information. But this particular site explains how the “Act Improves Our Counter-Terrorism Efforts in Several Significant Ways”. There are only four reasons depicted (1. The Patriot Act allows investigators to use the tools that were already available to investigate organized crime and drug trafficking, 2. The Patriot Act facilitated information sharing and cooperation among government agencies so that they can better “connect the dots”, 3. The Patriot Act updated the law to reflect new technologies and new threats, 4. The Patriot Act increased the penalties for those who commit terrorist crimes), and within these are subcategories.
What this site also does is cite a couple of lines from the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted…”
I put “all men are created equal” in bold because the Patriot Act contradicts this statement. This Act makes it acceptable for the government to scapegoat foreigners. Particularly those from the Middle East area, who look like they are, or have an Arab or Muslim name. For example, Yusuf Islam (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens) was barred from America. I also bolded “unalienable Rights” because they refer to the rights printed in the Constitution, which are clearly being violated by the Patriot Act. By the government legalizing this Act, it is taking away our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.