The officially accepted title of Patriot act is “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001.” (Fincen). It was signed into law by President George Bush on October 26, 2001. The key purpose of this law is to increase vigilance amongst the United States law enforcement agencies so as to deter acts of terrorism both within the United States and also globally.
The law received immense support from both the Republicans and the Democrats in the Congress but since then it has continued to draw controversies regarding its various provisions. This paper shall be examining the raging views regarding the law and the justifications for the various claims.The passage of the law meant that a number of fundamental changes would be carried out in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, Bank Secrecy Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act amongst other laws that are deemed crucial in the war against terror. Such moves were necessitated by the onset of the September 11 terror attacks that created urgency in the need to increase surveillance of the general populace in a bid to fend off future attacks. The law sought to bridge the wall that existed between the various security agencies to ensure proper flow of information to the relevant departments across the various government agencies. Section 203 of the Act provides for information “from criminal probes to be shared with the intelligence agencies and other parts of the government.” (Larry & Maria).
According to the Justice Department, the absence of this provision prior to the terror attacks had made it hard to track and pin down the masterminds of the attacks due to the impervious wall that existed between the FBI and the CIA. There were wide allegations forwarded that the CIA had prior knowledge of the presence of the prime suspects but did not furnish the FBI with a conclusive report. With the onset of the bill, there was more confidence in the Justice Department that such information will be shared in a timely manner. The raging opposition to the law insisted that there should be restrictions on the amount of information that can be shared. They also insisted that the law enforcement agencies should be required to indicate the motivations behind the sharing of information and maintained that only information linked to terrorism should be sharedThe Act also provided for only a single court authorization to monitor a series of devices under surveillance. Prior to the Act, the law required that the court issues an authorization for each and every device to be wiretapped. The Justice Department pointed out to the huge inconveniences caused to the law enforcement agencies especially in today’s age where terrorists are able to match the law enforcement agencies’ advancement in technological sophistication. This sparked wide criticism from the civil rights movements who were decrying a grave violation of civil liberties especially on privacy.
Many were foreseeing a scenario where innocent individuals will be incriminated and snooped upon at the behest of the law enforcement officers. Many today are pushing for the requirement to have the Justice Department give specifications on the device to be tapped (Evelyn A01).Another aspect of the bill that proved to be controversial was section 805 of the Act that banned American citizens from extending any form of assistance to suspected terrorists. Such assistance extends to any aspect of expert advice given. At the onset of the Oklahoma bombing, a law was enacted to legislate against providing of any material support to terrorists.
The PATRIOT Act on the other hand extended the scope of the law to include outlawing the provision of expert assistance. This section was seen by proponents as providing the needed window of opportunity to legally ensure a severance of the links and contacts that American citizens may be having with terrorist organizations. This was largely criticized by civil liberty movements and various scholars who saw it as threatening “the liberties of ordinary citizens much more than it minimizes the terrorist threat of Osama bin Laden and has small bands of zealous minions” (Howard 4).
It was particularly criticized as a government effort to stifle the constitutional right of freedom of speech. It was also largely seen as implying that Americans will be guilty by association should they unknowingly be in contact with terrorists.Section 213 of the Act sought to authorize law enforcement agencies to search suspected individuals homes or business premises without having to give a prior notification to the suspect. This occurs where “the court finds reasonable cause to believe that providing immediate notification of the execution of the warrant may have an adverse result.” (USA PATRIOT Act). However, this Act maintains that it is upon the Justice Department to convince the court on the existence of reasonable grounds to warrant that the notification be delayed.
This provision drew immense support from the Justice Department. It was hailed for giving the law enforcement officers ample opportunity to confront a suspect at the spur of the moment without giving a suspect time to destroy any crucial evidence. Those that opposed the law recognized that there were other windows open to the Justice Department which allows it to carry out discreet searches on suspects. Further onslaught in this provision was dealt in 2003 when a bill passed in the floor of the house reducing greatly the amount of funding for such secret searches.
The most debated provision in the Act centered on section 215. It allowed for “court ordered access to certain business records under FISA and expands the scope of court orders to include access to other records and tangible items.” (Patrick Leahy). This authorization was being referred to as the “libraries provisions” as it was seen as a direct attack on scholarly materials. The government has supported this particular law and has maintained it is not in any contravention to the provisions of the First Amendment. The Justice Department has particularly pointed out that its specific interest does not extend to the scrutiny of library materials.
Civil liberty movements voiced their opposition to the law in the belief that the government intended to impede on some basic rights of the Americans. They urged for the enactment of a number of counter amendments to limit the scope of the law. Activists demanded for a clause that will offer specific protections to libraries and all outlets that deal with reading materials. They were also against the requirement that people being sought by section 215 not to discuss the issue with anyone outside the authorities. They demanded that suspects be allowed to consult with their lawyers as it is their constitutional right.It is more than apparent that though the PATRIOT Act may have passed in the floor of the house there remained deep controversies on some of its provisions.
Civil liberties activists insisted that the law in one mighty blow took away huge chunk of civil liberties such as the freedom of speech, privacy and association from the citizenry. The Government on the other hand insisted that it was such a timely law as removed a number of encumbrances that impede on the maintenance of national security.