The USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) aims to strengthen the country’s law enforcement system against terrorism. The PATRIOT Act was an immediate response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Supporters praise the significant steps taken to address the homeland security issues facing the country. The large-scale and multi-faceted nature of the Act ensures that these security issues are addressed. However, critics argue that the Act contradicts the doctrine innocent until proven guilty. Through the Act, law enforcers are given more power that increases the probability of such contradiction. Critics also question the PATRIOT Act’s intent, future outlook, impacts on personal freedoms, and long-term implications. The debate focuses on whether or not the PATRIOT Act has gone too far in invading basic freedoms of Americans. It is clear that the Act is a significant change in American society.
The PATRIOT Act increases the capabilities and scope of law enforcement. It allows law enforcement actions previously deemed unlawful or illegal. Immediately after President George W. Bush signed the Act into law, many U.S. cities delayed its implementation. This delay was so because of unresolved issues and debates on the Act. Still, the Act was implemented, and cities eventually followed suit.
USA PATRIOT Act Overview
The September 11, 2001 attacks prompted the federal government to implement the PATRIOT Act. The foundations of the Act were created long before 9/11. In these foundations, the government was looking for solutions against threats and potential security issues in the country, at the domestic and international levels. However, the 9/11 tragedies were the trigger point that led to the Act’s implementation. These tragedies created enough bases for the federal government to implement the PATRIOT Act, emphasizing the need for greater or even desperate measures to counteract security threats and related problems. Thus, at the time of the implementation, the Act was viewed as an appropriate step, although it gradually became questionable as the country recovered from the 9/11 attacks.
The PATRIOT Act is frequently seen as un-American because it violates basic freedoms and human rights. For instance, the Act violates privacy. On the other hand, supporters of the PATRIOT Act claim that it is the only way for America to ensure national security. Proponents argue that terror events happen because of lack of vigilance in law enforcement. National security issues occur because of the lack of laws for tighter security.
How the USA PATRIOT Act Impacts Personal Freedoms
The PATRIOT Act increased the abilities of the government. For instance, the Act allows government interception of personal communication through wiretapping and other means. This enables the government to intercept communication among terrorism suspects. Law enforcers can also intercept personal communications of innocent citizens and non-citizens. However, PATRIOT Act supporters argue that electronic surveillance of people suspected to be a threat to national security has been in practice long before the PATRIOT Act. Secret hearings, warrants and wiretapping have been around since 1978, based on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Civil rights advocates argue that the PATRIOT Act is a threat to the rights and liberties of all American citizens, as well as non-citizens in the United States. Under the Act, law enforcers have the authority to carry out searches without warrants. Abusive law enforcers could conduct searches and seizures in the homes of people not necessarily linked to terrorism. Because of such provisions of the PATRIOT Act, there is high likelihood of abuse and violations of civil rights.
The PATRIOT Act also authorizes law enforcers to detain, for long periods, non-citizens suspected of terrorism. The Act further allows law enforcers to detain such suspects indefinitely in cases classified as special. When this happens, the PATRIOT Act strips non-citizens of basic freedoms. The government can also use immigration laws to deport people on suspicion of terrorism.
There are also concerns on the economic impact of the PATRIOT Act. Foreign nationals are significant sources of investment in the United States. Law enforcement abuse under the PATRIOT Act could reduce non-citizens’ confidence in the country.
Future Outlook for the PATRIOT Act: Long-term Implications
The USA PATRIOT Act has strengths and weaknesses, and benefits and risks. Debates focus on violations of civil liberties. There are also questions about the appropriateness of the Act because it was passed and signed into law without extensive review. As the United States continues to experience terror threats and attacks, it is expected that the PATRIOT Act will continue to take effect.
Civil liberties throughout American history have always expanded in peacetime and contracted during emergencies and wartime. During the Civil War, the two world wars, and the Cold War, Congress and the president restricted civil liberties, and courts deferred. During peacetime, civil liberties expanded.
Still, criticisms on the PATRIOT Act should lead to amendments. The future of the Act will likely involve amendments to limit the scope and powers of law enforcers. The goal of such amendments will be to protect personal freedoms and individual rights.
- Best, S. (2013). The Son of Patriot Act and the Revenge on Democracy. Tamara Journal for Critical Organization Inquiry, 3(3).
- Hopkins, A. E. (2012). Diverging Discontent: Examining the PATRIOT Act’s Passage in Congress Under the Bush Administration. Student Pulse, 4(10).
- Lungren, D. E. (2012). Congressional Perspective on the Patriot Act Extenders, A. Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, 26, 427.
- Mueller, R. S. (2004). Testimony of Robert S. Mueller, III, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, on the USA PATRIOT Act.
- U.S. Department of Justice. The USA PATRIOT Act: Preserving Life and Liberty.
- U.S. Department of the Treasury – Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. USA PATRIOT Act.
- USA PATRIOT Act, 107th Congress of the United States of America. U.S. Government Printing Office.