The Patriot Act Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:06:56
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After the atrocious terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, the Government has focused an overwhelming amount of attention on combating terrorism. On October 26, 2001 the Bush Administration passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, infamously known as Patriot Act. Practically, Patriot Act significantly expands the power of the federal government to investigate, detain, and deport those people who the government suspects are linked to terrorist activity and other crimes.

Although the US Congress while enacting this bill thought of the ways to protect America from future terrorist attacks, it failed to balance acceptably the Act with Americans civil and constitutional liberties (Strickland, 26). Ironically, the bill created to protect against terrorism extends beyond its limited goal, jeopardizing the civil liberties of Americans more than necessary and creating many opportunities for privacy and freedom violations.

History illustrates that, in times of peril, hastily taken measures often weaken governmental restrictions against coercive and intrusive powers and often infringe on civil liberties without substantially enhancing security. Throughout United States history, the country allowed civil liberties to be sacrificed in face of what seemed to be legitimate exigencies of war: the Alien and Sedition Acts, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the blacklisting of supposed communist sympathizers during the McCarthy era, and the governments surveillance of civil rights leaders in the 1960s (Pike, 20).

These abuses should not be forgotten in this war against terrorism, but rather used as a lesson that the risk of governmental abuse is substantial. As Louis D. Brandeis explained, experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the governments purposes are beneficent . . . The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding (Gastil and Sussman, 116). This history of abuse indicates that civil liberty violations will likely be a reality if the governmental actions are not carefully constructed with safeguards.

From the critical standpoint, the US Patriot Act evidently lacks these safeguards. According to professor Chimerinsky, some loss of freedom may be necessary to ensure security; but not every sacrifice of liberty is warranted . . . The central question must be what rights need to be sacrificed, under what circumstances, and for what gain (Congress Hearings, Lexis-Nexis, 2001). From the very beginning, the Act does not define what a suspected terrorist is, or how the government may go about suspecting someone of terrorism.

Potentially, this lack of transparency gives the government an opportunity to use the norms of the Act virtually on every American. The US Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives (28 C. F. R. Section 0. 85). However, this definition is rarely adhered to in practice.

Title 2, section 201 of Patriot Act, entitled Authority to Intercept Wire, Oral, and Electronic Communications Relating to Terrorism amends Section 2516(1) of title 18, US Code. It allows any criminal violation relating to chemical weapons or terrorism to authorize eavesdropping on the perpetrator. Section 215 also gives the United States government the right to gain access to records and other items under the foreign intelligence surveillance act. This includes everything from dental records to fingerprints and criminal history.

Perhaps the most menacing part of the Patriot Act, however, is Title V, entitled Removing Obstacles to Investigating Terrorism, which features sections which allows DNA identification of terrorists and other violent offenders, forces local law enforcement to relinquish control and all data over to federal law enforcement, allows disclosure of educational records, and allows disclosure of information from NCES surveys. Not only these provisions make the Act to be unjust and inappropriate, but they also violate all the norms established by the US Constitution regarding civil rights and liberties.

Guaranteeing the security of the United States is the most fundamental governmental objectives and intelligence surveillance plays a critical role in the protection of national security. However, protecting civil liberties is of great importance, and that is why the issue of surveillance went through years of debate. The values of the Constitution of the United States have united the country for more than 200 years. The framers designed the Constitution to protect civil liberties in times of war as well as in times of peace.

It necessary to remember that the Constitution was designed at the time when America won the Revolutionary War; the time that was not comfortable or easy, and enemies posed a real threat. However, protecting civil liberties remained a central goal. Similarly, the current threat of terrorism cannot now be used as justification to disregard civil liberties provided by the Constitution. American ideals and values must be respected to maintain the strength of the United States. Commitment to the principles of the Constitution in the face of terrorist atrocities will serve justice and demonstrate the strength of the United States to the world.

Even before September 11th, the government acknowledged that terrorists hope to provoke responses that undermine the Constitution of the United States. For instance, a report published before the Patriot Act argued that counterterrorism policies must be effective, but must also respect the democratic traditions (Bernstein, 29). Meanwhile, the Patriot Act could have profound implications on the democracy of the United States. Privacy involves the relationship of the individual to the state, the most fundamental aspect of a government.

Since the beginning of the United States, Americans have been committed to the idea that people have the right to control how much information about their thoughts, feelings, choices and political beliefs is disclosed (France M. et al, 83). Privacy acts as the boundary that provides protection from the outside world and maintains human dignity. Privacy works to shield minorities and outsiders from persecution, something America prides itself in providing. By reducing our commitment to privacy, we risk changing what it means to be Americans (France M. t al, 84). The analysis of the Acts sections depicts whole unconstitutional character of this controversial bill. For instance, Section 218 blurs the essential distinction between criminal and intelligence surveillance. It requires only that a significant purpose of a search or wiretap be to obtain foreign intelligence information (Hearings, Lexis-Nexis, 3162/218). The addition of the word significant eliminates the previous FISA civil liberty safeguard that separated criminal surveillance from intelligence surveillance.

Now the Patriot Act allows a search to be performed under the previous surveillance guidelines even if the motivation is to get criminal evidence, not foreign intelligence information. In contemporary context, this change allows the FBI to conduct secret searches or to secretly record telephone conversations without probable cause when their primary purpose is to obtain criminal information, not to gather foreign intelligence (ACLU, 2005). As a result, Section 218 threatens the civil liberties of Americans who pose no terrorist threat.

Moreover, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires the government to prove to a judicial officer that it has probable cause of a crime before it conducts an invasive search to find evidence of that crime (US Constitution, AM IV). Before the enactment of the Patriot Act, if the primary purpose was a criminal investigation, the law enforcement officials had to first prove the higher standard of probable cause. Investigating criminal activity cannot be the primary purpose of surveillance.

However, the change made by Section 218 authorizes unconstitutional activity by impinging on the Fourth Amendment protection that requires probable cause. Section 218 now provides law enforcement officials with a tool to avoid probable cause when conducting criminal investigation surveillance. As long as law enforcement officials can find some aspect of the surveillance relating to intelligence gathering, the surveillance is now very likely to be allowed even if the surveillance is primarily conducted for criminal investigation purposes.

Form the critical standpoint, the word significant is not enough of a safeguard to protect the probable cause requirement for criminal investigations. Prior to the Patriot Act, the statutes that governed the use of pen registration and trap and trace devices were structured according to the understanding that the telephone was the predominate method of communication across a distance. To obtain a court order, the law enforcement officer needs to attest that the information to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation (18 U.

S. C. , 3123 (a), 2001). In order to have access to the contents of the telephone communication, the officer had to prove probable cause, that is, that a crime has occurred, is occurring, or will occur (18 U. S. C. S. , 3122, 1993). Therefore, previous policy somehow limited the access law enforcement officials have to obtain call content. Not only has the Patriot Act simplified the procedure of obtaining court orders, it also extends the rights of law enforcement officers to access everything from hard-wire telephones to Internet communications.

Now, Section 216 gives law enforcement agents access to dialing, addressing, routing or signaling information transmitted by an instrument or facility from which a wire or electronic communication is transmitted, once they have obtained pen register and trap and trace orders. In addition to the outgoing dialed telephone numbers and the origin of the incoming telephone calls, pen registers and trap and trace orders now give access to much more information contained in an electronic communication: the routing, addressing and signaling information of an electronic communication.

Taking into consideration that in the US modern history, the FBI has repeatedly abused its powers, the Patriot Act jeopardizes significantly Americans right to privacy as well as other civil liberties. For example, during 1960s the FBI has investigated people because of ethnic background or political viewpoint, both of which unjustly invade the sacred American right of individual privacy. Reasons why the government, blindfolded congressmen and other officials allow the possibility for infamous historical incidents and violations to happen again remain unclear.

For now, the only thing which is clear is that my personal privacy as well as privacy of my family and friends is under constant threat. Quite possibly, my email correspondence with my foreign friends or relatives is under careful watch of FBI or other Homeland Security agents. My educational records along with other private information are easily accessible for unclear and non-transparent purposes. And although my correspondence, my online diaries, weblogs, email, etc do not represent any threat for the United States, there is no justification and reasons for why they should be available for surveillance.

Finally, the US Patriot Act is apparently neither effective vehicle to protect citizens from terrorism nor it conforms to the Constitution. Practically, it impedes your, my, their civil liberties. The Government should have first determined and analyzed the barriers inhibiting effective use of existing policies that protect against terrorism, and only then utilize such aggressive control over our liberty.

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