Skip to content

Usa Patriot Act Summary Essays

The Importance of the USA Patriot Act Essay

Words5 Pages

The Importance of the USA Patriot Act

The United States government changed the face of computer and internet use when it signed the USA Patriot Act on October 26, This act was created in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York City on September 11 that same year. Many people believe that this act is a good thing and will help in defense against any future attacks. What most people do not know, however, is the effect of this act on the more general public. This includes individual people, public libraries, colleges and universities, and even trucking or hauling companies.

The basis of the USA Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept…show more content…

Agencies previously used subpoenas to obtain these records. The problem with this was that there was a court process that had to be gone through before records could be obtained. Now, the agencies only need to obtain a search warrant for this, greatly speeding up their process.

The USAPA provides agencies the ability to ask for student records in concurrence with a terrorism investigation. This was previously protected by Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. These agencies must, however, receive a court order from a Federal District court. The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service is given quite extensive powers concerning foreign students. The school is required to keep visa information on these students and update any changes to these visas. Science programs have much more requirements than other areas. Scientists must have thorough background checks before they can obtain materials from the newly-expanded toxin list that the government keeps. Also, convicted felons, people dishonorably discharged from the military, illegal aliens, and people convicted of using illicit drugs are not allowed to use these documented materials.

Most instances concerning trucking or hauling companies comes in the form of the information kept about their drivers. Extremely thorough background checks are required for drivers of trucks carrying hazardous waste materials. The main part

Show More

The Patriot Act Threatens Fundamental American Freedoms

by Feross Aboukhadijeh - 11th grade

Forty-five days after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, also known as the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” Act, or more simply, the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was created with the noble intention of finding and prosecuting international terrorists operating on American soil; however, the unfortunate consequences of the Act have been drastic. Many of the Patriot Act’s provisions are in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution—a document drafted by wise men like Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington in order to protect American rights and freedoms. The Patriot Act encroaches on sacred First Amendment rights, which protect free speech and expression, and Fourth Amendment rights, which protect citizens against “unwarranted search and seizure” (Justice). The Patriot Act authorizes unethical and unconstitutional surveillance of American citizens with a negligible improvement in national security. Free speech, free thinking, and a free American lifestyle can not survive in the climate of distrust and constant fear created by the Patriot Act.

The great American patriot Robert F. Kennedy once said in his famous “Day of Affirmation Address” that the first and most critical element of “individual liberty is the freedom of speech; the right to express and communicate ideas, to set oneself apart from the dumb beasts of field and forest . . .” Modern American politicians and lawmakers, it seems, have lost sight of the important ideals that Kennedy spoke about and upon which this country was founded—ideals like civil rights, personal freedom, and the right to privacy. No longer can a newspaper editor publish an article that is critical of the government—even if it is legal—without fear that Big Brother may begin to survey his every thought and action. This may very well be the most frightening aspect of the Patriot Act: the fact that the Act allows the government to spy on any of its citizens, not just the bad ones. The Patriot Act does not demand sufficient proof that alleged “suspects” are engaged in criminal activity before authorizing government surveillance. Even upstanding American citizens can become targets of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance simply because of the manner in which they exercise their First Amendment rights (Beeson). Simply put, the Patriot Act fails to secure American liberties; in reality, the Act exposes Americans to potential abuses of power by creating an environment that encourages government corruption, secrecy, fraud and discrimination while using “national security” as a pretense for violating basic Constitutional rights like privacy and free speech. As the century drags on, it is becoming painfully obvious that the Patriot Act has actually moved the United States further away from an ideal democratic society since its passage in October of

Ever since , when American colonists first abandoned their ties with Britain to create an independent nation, American citizens have always cherished basic rights like freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures (United States). But after the unpredictable events of September 11, , many citizens began to feel that they should give up some of their cherished rights in order to punish the perpetrators of the attacks and avoid future tragedies. An overwhelming sense of national unity overtook the country and Americans united to face the newly discovered threat of terrorism in a modern age. The President’s approval rating increased from 54% to 86%—its highest level ever—in a matter of days (Ruggles). The American people rallied behind the Federal government and provided support. Tragically, Congress drafted the Patriot Act and decreed that it would be the solution to America’s problems. According to Congress, the Patriot Act would protect America from its enemies who operated on American soil. Many Americans unquestionably accepted the Act to avoid the risk of being labeled “unpatriotic.” However, thousands of far-seeing Americans publicly questioned the actions of the government, but their cries were not heard. When the House of Representatives sent the Patriot Act to the Senate, it passed with a vote of Peter Justice put it best when he said that “. . . the climate of fear in the weeks after the September 11 attacks and the haste with which the Patriot Act was passed allowed some of its more controversial aspects to escape adequate congressional scrutiny.” Clearly, the “fear frenzy” that took place after the September 11 attacks caused Americans to sacrifice essential civil rights in exchange for a sense of security.

The only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act was Senator Feingold. Feingold is significant because he was the only Senator to fight against the Patriot Act before it was signed into law. The arguments that he made against the Act during September and October of continue to point out the negative effects the Act has had on American life and will continue to have moving forward in the twenty-first century. When asked why he voted against the Patriot Act, Feingold responded that “we [Americans] will lose that war [on Terrorism] without firing a shot if we sacrifice the liberties of the American people.” Essentially, Feingold argued that the Patriot Act is counter-productive: if government “security” is meant to protect American liberties, then the American people should not have to sacrifice their liberties to purchase security. What purpose will “security” serve if there are no liberties left to defend? If the Federal government curtails American liberty, then security is rendered worthless. Colonial statesman Benjamin Franklin once said that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” According to Franklin, real American patriots constantly question their government’s intentions in order to ensure that their elected politicians are keeping the “core of American values and principles” at heart while in office (Justice). The Patriot Act does not keep the interests of American citizens in mind because it sacrifices crucial civil rights that have been guaranteed by the Bill of Rights ever since (United States).

There is no question that the Patriot Act is unconstitutional. The Act violates the fundamental American ideal of “checks and balances” on government power. Normally, the government can not conduct a search of a citizen’s residence without obtaining a warrant and demonstrating a reason to believe that the suspect has committed (or may commit) a crime. But the Patriot Act violates the Fourth Amendment by allowing the government to conduct searches without a warrant—for just about any reason. If the FBI is ever questioned about such activity, shrewd FBI officials simply state that the investigation is crucial to national security, and they are permitted to continue with the operation. In more recent years the situation has improved somewhat, however. Now, before conducting a search, the FBI must obtain a warrant from a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). Ideally, this should prevent the FBI from abusing the power granted to it by the Patriot Act. However, in its twenty-two years of existence the FISA court has only rejected six search warrants out of the 18, requested since the court’s creation (“Newstrack”). This means that if the FBI decides it wants to spy on a certain American citizen, it will most likely be able to do so, even without sufficient evidence.

Certainly, the United States government needs to have the power to monitor suspected terrorists—no upstanding American citizen is arguing about that—but the problem lies in the manner in which government monitoring occurs. The Patriot Act fails to strike a desirable balance between protecting American lives against the threat of terrorism and protecting the rights of Americans against potential government abuse (“Reform”). Particularly upsetting about the Act are several critical provisions designed to widely expand government power with limited “checks and balances” and nearly limitless potential for abuse.

Section is one such provision which greatly expands the power of the Federal government. Section of the Patriot Act authorizes law enforcement agents to conduct “sneak-and-peek” operations in a U.S. resident’s home. This provision violates the Fourth Amendment by failing to require that those persons who are the subject of search orders “be told that their privacy has been compromised” (“Reform”). If an individual does not know that the government has been in his home then he will be unable to verify that the government conducted a reasonable search using a valid warrant. If the government indeed did overstep its bounds, the individual will have no means to take recourse against the government. After all, how can a person protect their rights if they do not know that their rights have been violated? Section erodes the “sacred rights of western society” as described by Kennedy, and reduces U.S. civil rights to nearly the same level as those of the Nazi Socialists in Russia during the s and 40s.

Section , also called the “library records provision”, also has serious implications for American civil liberty. Section opens medical records, magazine subscriptions, e-mails, bookstore purchases, library circulation records, genetic information, academic transcripts, psychiatric records, membership lists, diaries, charitable contributions, airline reservations, hotel records, notes, and social services files to the FBI’s prying eyes (Beeson). For example, the FBI can request the names of all the patrons that have checked out a certain book from the library, simply because they do not like the topic of that particular book. Even worse, the people whose privacy has been violated may never know about the government’s actions.

Section is another particularly threatening provision of the Patriot Act. Section facilitates the use of “national security letters”, or NSLs, in federal investigations. NSLs are a form of administrative subpoena that legally compel an entity or organization to turn over personal records and information about certain individuals. Previously, the FBI could only use NSLs to access records of foreign agents and known terrorists, but Section of the Patriot Act adds non-terrorism suspects to the list of entities that the FBI can use NSLs to spy on (“Controversial”). The problem with this is that NSLs are substantially easier to obtain than regular subpoenas; NSLs do not have to be authorized by a judge like normal subpoenas—they merely must be signed by certain key FBI agents. This means that the FBI can use NSLs to illegally obtain information about an American citizen who may be involved in some sort of crime. While many Patriot Act supporters may argue that Section is beneficial because the FBI can more easily obtain information about all types of criminals, the truth is that Section violates the Fifth Amendment’s “due process of law” clause. According to the Fifth Amendment, no person should be “. . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . .” Section , however, allows the FBI to circumvent the usual subpoena procedure (the due process that the law demands) in order to more easily obtain desired information. This means that NSLs can legally be used to obtain information about ordinary criminals like robbers, shoplifters, and drug users—and even people who have presented little or no evidence of wrongdoing. NSLs are extremely serious legal weapons and should be reserved for only the most serious of crimes, like terrorism.

While the potential for government abuse of the Patriot Act is all too clear, another alarming fact is that the Patriot Act fails to secure American liberties—proving that the Act has failed in its purpose. According to Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU, “Effective law enforcement in the aftermath of September 11 does not call for a return to the bad old days when there was open season on dissent and dissenters . . . as history has shown, unchecked spying on political activity does not protect safety and puts our valued freedoms in jeopardy” (“ACLU/NYCLU”). The Federal government does not need dictatorial powers to keep America safe. Kennedy would have opposed the Patriot Act for the same reasons that he opposed communism. Kennedy said “I am unalterably opposed to communism because it exalts the state over the individual . . . and because its system contains a lack of freedom of speech, of protest, of religion, and of the press, which is characteristic of a totalitarian regime . . .” It is frighteningly un-American to assume that giving politicians authoritarian powers will make America safer. Furthermore, Kennedy would have argued that the way to oppose terrorists is to “enlarge individual human freedom”—not take it away. By allowing the Federal government to take away freedoms and civil rights, Americans are actually helping the terrorists to erode the ideals of the American system. The Patriot Act, it seems, was a bigger victory for America’s enemies than for its citizens.

Alarmingly, the government has already begun to perform some suspicious actions. The FBI is keeping secret “even the most basic information” about FBI surveillance (“Reform”). For example, the FBI classified information that should have been available to the public—information that would have shown how often the FBI has spied on people based on the manner that they exercise their First Amendment rights. Although this action in and of itself does not prove that the FBI or the Federal government has explicitly broken the law, it does hint that the government is trying to hide its activities from public scrutiny. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote that “. . . the few known cases of rights violations under the Patriot Act are likely the tip of the iceberg in terms of abuses of the investigative powers the government has under the Patriot Act because most such investigation is conducted secretly.” In other words, the few verified cases of government abuse of the Patriot Act may indicate many more abuses which are not disclosed to the public.

Although some Americans may say, “I don’t mind the Patriot Act because I have nothing to hide from the government”, this thinking is flawed for several reasons. First of all, if the American people know that their actions and communications are being monitored they will feel less comfortable expressing their thoughts and exercising their rights to free speech and free thinking; this is especially so if the person’s thoughts are not what the government wants them to think. Second, by eroding American civil rights in order to obtain a sense of security, Americans are actually helping the terrorists to achieve their mission of destroying democratic ideals in the western world. The last and most compelling reason to oppose the Patriot Act is the fact that it is a direct attack on American ideals. The Patriot Act essentially destroys the protections offered by the First and Fourth Amendments and exposes Americans to potential abuses at the hands of Big Brother.

Protecting Americans from foreign threats is critical; the Federal government should do whatever it takes to keep its citizens safe, but it should never infringe upon their civil rights. No doubt, the Patriot Act represents an emerging trend in American government today—a trend of sacrificing the American Creed’s ideals in exchange for security. Americans fought the Revolutionary War to earn basic liberties that they felt were their God-given rights—rights that no humans should live without. Americans should not so easily relinquish the rights and liberties cherished for so long as the cornerstone of American society for the mere illusion of security.

Works Cited

"ACLU/NYCLU Mobilize Members and Supporters to Keep America ‘Safe and Free’." NYCLU. ACLU Foundation. 5 Mar. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Beeson, Ann, and Jameel Jaffer. "Unpatriotic Acts: the FBI's Power to Rifle Through Your Records and Personal Belongings Without Telling You." ACLU. July ACLU Foundation. 25 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

"Controversial Provisions of the USA Patriot Act." Facts on File News Services. 14 Apr. 5 Apr. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Feingold, Russell. "Senator Feingold's Speech Explaining Why He Voted Against the Patriot Act (Excerpts)." Facts on File News Services. 12 Oct. 8 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Justice, Peter. "USA Patriot Act." Facts on File News Services. 14 Apr. 8 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Kennedy, Robert F. "Day of Affirmation Address." University of Capetown, Capetown. 6 June 5 Apr. <dfknj.wz.cz+Resources/Archives/ Reference+Desk/Speeches/RFK/Day+of+Affirmation+Address+News+Release+Page+dfknj.wz.cz>.

“Newstrack - Top News." United Press International 26 Dec. 5 Apr. <dfknj.wz.cz bush_was_denied_wiretaps_bypassed_them/>.

"Reform the Patriot Act: Section " ACLU. ACLU Foundation. 25 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Ruggles, Steven. "Historical Bush Approval Ratings." 5 Mar. University of Minnesota. 5 Mar. <dfknj.wz.cz~ruggles/dfknj.wz.cz>.

United States. The Bill of Rights. 5 Mar. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Works Consulted

"A Case of Justice That Stinks: the Administration's Forced Resignations Among U.S. Attorneys Tell the Tale of the Corrupting Influence of Unchecked Power." The Roanoke Times. 21 Jan. McClatchy-Tribune Business News. 8 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=2W62W&site=src-live>.

"ACLU/NYCLU Mobilize Members and Supporters to Keep America ‘Safe and Free’." NYCLU. ACLU Foundation. 5 Mar. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Beeson, Ann, and Jameel Jaffer. "Unpatriotic Acts: the FBI's Power to Rifle Through Your Records and Personal Belongings Without Telling You." ACLU. July ACLU Foundation. 25 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Berlau, John. "Show Us Your Money: the USA PATRIOT Act Lets the Feds Spy on Your Finances. But Does It Help Catch Terrorists?" Reason (). 8 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

"Controversial Provisions of the USA Patriot Act." Facts on File News Services. 14 Apr. 5 Apr. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Feingold, Russell. "Senator Feingold's Speech Explaining Why He Voted Against the Patriot Act (Excerpts)." Facts on File News Services. 12 Oct. 8 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Justice, Peter. "USA Patriot Act." Facts on File News Services. 14 Apr. 8 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Kennedy, Robert F. "Day of Affirmation Address." University of Capetown, Capetown. 6 June 5 Apr. <dfknj.wz.cz+Resources/Archives/ Reference+Desk/Speeches/RFK/Day+of+Affirmation+Address+News+Release+Page+dfknj.wz.cz>.

"Newstrack - Top News." United Press International 26 Dec. 5 Apr. <dfknj.wz.cz bush_was_denied_wiretaps_bypassed_them/>.

"Reform the Patriot Act: Section " ACLU. ACLU Foundation. 25 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

"Robert F. Kennedy." Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 8 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

"Robert F. Kennedy." Who2? Biographies. 8 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

Ruggles, Steven. "Historical Bush Approval Ratings." 5 Mar. University of Minnesota. 5 Mar. <dfknj.wz.cz~ruggles/dfknj.wz.cz>.

United States. Cong. Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (Usa Patriot Act) Act of . th Cong. 26 Oct. 8 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz?dbname=_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ>.

United States. The Bill of Rights. 5 Mar. <dfknj.wz.cz>.

"USA Patriot Act ()." The United States At War. 26 Oct. ABC-CLIO. 8 Feb. <dfknj.wz.cz?entryid=&searchtext=usa+patriot+act&subcategoryid=46&total=18&ratio=&bc=new&numentries=9>.

Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "Sample Research Paper - "The Patriot Act"" dfknj.wz.cz Study Notes, LLC., 17 Nov. Web. 13 Mar. <dfknj.wz.cz>.