U.S.A Patriot Act History and Its Most Controversial Provisions


The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001 is a series of amendments of existing statutes with additional amendments, which were enacted to aid in prevention and fight against future terrorism (Smith, & Hung, 2010). The U.S.A PATRIOT Act was enacted hastily by Congress and signed into law by President Bush, after the 9/11 attacks.

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            After the 9/11 attacks, the administration of President Bush submitted a draft legislation to the Congress that was designed to expand the government’s power of surveillance, investigation and detention of suspects. According to (Historycommons.org, 2017) the first draft of the Patriot Act was introduced to Congress in September 19th 2001. This initial bill had broad powers and was rejected and was revised and reintroduced in October 2nd. However, it did not receive much backing with Senate Majority leader, Tom Daschle, doubting the ability of the bill to be passed within the short duration. On October 9th, the act was blocked from harsh passage by Senator Russ Feingold, who citing lack of debate and opportunity for amendments. Moreover, he criticized the bill as threat to the civil liberties. Despite all the concerns, the House of Representatives passed the final version of the Patriot Act on October 24, 2001, which was later signed into law by Bush on October 26, 2001.

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One aspect of the USA Patriot Act that is of great interest is its introduction. Although many of the electronic surveillance provisions were raised before 9/11, they became areas of great debate and criticism. According to (Smith, & Hung, 2010), John Podesta, the former White House Chief of Staff has questioned what has happened since the act was enacted. The opponents have pointed that no significant terrorist attack has occurred since the enactment of the act. However, he proponents have cited the fact that the bill was necessary for the protection of the national security and empowerment of the law enforcement and the intelligence agencies, to keep track and share information about suspected terrorists and their supporters in the U.S soil.

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The Most Controversial Provisions of the Patriot Act

            The major provisions of the Patriot Act include detention and deportation of non-citizens if they provide lawful assistance to a group or organization that the government considers terrorists, indefinite detention of immigrants if found to have links to terrorism, the internet providers can be order to reveal websites visited by suspected terrorists as well as the email addresses used, domestic intelligence system, encouragement of financial institutions to reveal any violation of law or suspicious activity by a client, federal agents empowerment to obtain warrants to review the readings and computer habits of library patrons and the discretion of the government to reveal how evidence is collected against terrorist defendant (Ball, 2005). Although most of the sections of the Patriot Act have been widely accepted, the sections that remain controversial include the expanded access to personal records held by third parties, the detention and deportation of non-citizens and the indefinite detention of immigrants found to have links with terrorism.

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According to American Civil Liberties Union, the Patriot Act has increased the surveillance powers of the government (American Civil Liberties Union, 2017). The author points that the scope of surveillance was increased under the Patriot Act to include secret searches, records searches, “trap and trace” searches and intelligence searches. This results in unchecked government powers, which riffles into individual private records or any activity that leave a record. Moreover, section 215 is unconstitutional as it violates the provisions of the First and Fourth Amendments. The Pretext of National Security Letters (NSLs) aids the FBI in violating the fundamental freedom of speech, privacy and unwarranted arrests. However, those who support the Patriot Act point that section 215 that expands searches and warrants of arrests has helped enhance security in the country.

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The sections of the Patriot Act on detention and deportation of non-citizens and the indefinite detention of immigrants found to have links with terrorism are against the civil liberties and tends to prioritize security of American citizens over the rights of citizens from other countries (Herman, n.d.). The enactment of the Patriot Act allowed the detention of many terrorism suspects to be held in Guantanamo prison for many years without judgment. This not only violated the fundamental freedom of movement, but also violated the rights of the suspects against fair judgment. Moreover, the opponents argue that the act is racist as it tends indirectly target the Arab-American citizens. However, those who support the act cite that these sections have given the law enforcement legal grounds to hold dangerous criminals, thus preventing them from planning dangerous attacks. Although the opponents and defenders of the Patriot Act still remain at odds, the act has helped to strengthen the security of the American society. Before the enactment of the act, the law enforcement had limited authority on counter-terrorism, which hindered their effectiveness. An example is the lack of money laundering legislation before the Patriot Act. Money has become key component for funding global terrorism. The Patriot Act provides stiff measures for prevention of money laundering. Overall, although the patriot act has its own flaws, it has helped enhance the American security.

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