The first amendment guarantees United States citizens the right to free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion. The fourth amendment gives us protection from search and seizure. Civil liberties are the foundation on which this great nation is based. They are an integral foundation on which the constitution was based. Terrorism has instilled fear on this country (George W. Bush). Terrorists want to destroy what Americans have and hold dear to them. In these troubling times how far must we as Americans, Patriots, and human beings go to protect ourselves from terrorists? The Patriot Act was instilled to protect citizens from terrorists… but do citizens need protected from the Patriot Act?
The Patriot Act was passed just after the September 11 attacks in 2001. Sense then it has faced opposition and criticism from civil libertarians, government officials and United States citizens. It contains over one hundred provisions, or requirements, that change the way law enforcement can act when it comes to pursuing criminals or suspected terrorists (Seamon). Seven of these provisions are listed as the most controversial on the issues and controversies web page:
Section 206 of the Patriot Act allows investigators the ability to get orders allowing surveillances on a suspect’s future cellular telephone or computer. This gives the law enforcement ability to skip the need to apply for a new warrant each time the suspect gets new equipment.
The provision more commonly referred to as “Sneak-and-peek” is labeled section 213. This Patriot Act provision lowers the standard for informing someone that their property has been searched by law enforcement. A judge must grant the ability to delay informing the person under grounds that doing so will endanger another person, cause evidence to be destroyed or put the investigation in jeopardy.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act involves personal records. Courts from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) can allow federal agents to access any library and medical records for investigation purposes. The FISA court system has lower standards for evidence so this type of warrant is much easier obtained. Also, this provision forbids doctors, libraries or what have you from informing the individual that their records have been investigated.
The FISA warrants are easier for agencies to obtain because of Section 218. This section allows secret FISA courts to issue warrants guarding searches and wiretaps. These courts, however, didn’t deal with arresting criminals; they dealt strictly with covert foreign operations. Section 218 changed the word primary to significant. Collecting evidence before section 218 was more difficult because warrants were harder to get. The wording of section 218 used to state that foreign intelligence had to be the primary purpose for the warrant. After 218 it had to be a significant purpose, a standard that is easier to meet and also opens to door for domestic surveillance under the Patriot Act so long as it will provide information in foreign matters.
Section 411 is designed to prohibit non citizens from entering the United States if they have ties to known terrorists or terrorist organizations. It also states the government can ban individuals who “endorse or espouse terrorist activity or to persuade others to support terrorist activity.” This may, and some say did, allow the government to deny entry because their political views are non desirable in the eyes of the Patriot Act.
National security letters are similar to warrants. They differ in the fact that rather than being signed by a judge, these letters are signed by the special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Section 505 of the Patriot Act allows these letters to be used to investigate internet and financial records of suspects not related to terrorism, where as the letters were previously limited to terrorism suspects only. Additionally, this Patriot Act provision was extended in 2003 to include financial records of businesses that have a “high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters.”
The definition of domestic terrorism is defined in section 802. In this section the definition is quite broad in stating that domestic terrorism is anything that “involves acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States.” Some people believe that the Patriot Act allows prosecution or harassment of regular protesters. (Issues and Controversies)
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts (FISC) are very important to the law enforcement agencies and the executive branch of government in tracking the electronic processes of “foreign powers.” But what is a foreign power as defined by the Patriot Act? Pre Patriot Act FISC could not issue warrants or orders for criminal activity. However, the definition of “foreign powers or agents of foreign powers” now eludes to and includes criminal activity. Crimes that FISC can issue an order of warrant for include espionage, sabotage and terrorism. Orders can be issued for the suspect and/or anyone who has ties or close communication with the suspect. (Champion) This could pose an interesting question because the Patriot Act warrants that these courts issue do not have the same high standards for probable cause that a traditional judiciary court upholds.
Since FISA was enacted in 1978 over ten thousand requests were made for orders of warrant, only one has been reported as being turned down. In the year 2000 over one thousand requests were made. After September 11, 2001 the requirements and standards were lowered and these numbers of requests only expanded (Champion). Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were inundated with letters from the FBI to disclose information about their users, users who the ISP could not inform because of the secrecy section of the Patriot Act. The FBI collected information regarding which sites users visited, things they purchased, credit card information and just about everything that the individual did online. (Swartz)
Numerous states and cities alike have made attempts to repeal or ignore the Patriot act. Most notably, Section 215 has faced mounting opposition. Libraries in Berkley, California erase records of returned books each day as well as deleting all internet pages visited. Arcata, California passed legislation that keeps local law enforcement from enforcing the Patriot Act (Swartz). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helped file a lawsuit against the Federal Government claiming that the Patriot Act violates due process, free speech, privacy, and protection from unreasonable search and seizure (Swartz).
Although there have been attempts to repeal the Patriot Act, there are also amendments or additions to it that have been reviewed and/or passed. The Patriot II draft legislation was leaked to the media in early 2003; this leak caused a maelstrom of resistance because it violated constitutional rights and put civil liberties at risk. On December 13, 2003 President Bush signed into law the Intelligence Authorization Act. This act, which passed nearly unnoticed because it was signed the same day Saddam Hussein was captured, contained some of the same controversial provisions of the Patriot II legislation (Swartz). The new Patriot Act expanded the searching powers of the FBI. The FBI no longer needs to get any judicial approval to search through a suspect’s financial records. The can issue a “National Security Letter” to the institution that holds the financial records. They can do this without probable cause, without having the suspect linked to any terrorist activity, and even more disturbing, without having the suspect linked to any crime at all. This act also expands the definition of “financial institution” to include travel agencies, stock brokers, insurance companies, casinos, car dealerships, the U.S. Postal Service, airlines, jewelry stores and any other business that has “a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters.” (Swartz)
The Patriot Act has put many individuals into the judiciary system, individuals with outspoken views and political affiliations not within the mainstream. For instance a college student was visited at her residence by the secret service because she had in her possession a poster with an anti-death-penalty slogan and images of President Bush. Another case of alleged harassment involved an art dealer who belonged to the Green Party. He was denied access to fly on a particular day because of the Patriot Act. Police and secret service at the airport told him that Green Party members were not allowed to fly that day and then continued to photograph him and questioned his affiliations with the party, his family and finally he was shown documents that suggested that Green Party were likely terrorists (Dority).
Everyday protestors and average Joe students are not the only ones who should be worried. Public defense lawyer Lynne Stewart was arraigned on four counts of “material aid to terrorism” after she was assigned to represent Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman of an organization called the Islamic Group, which some consider to be terrorist. Her attorney-client privileges were ignored by the Patriot Act when her visits to Rahman were videotaped on hidden camera and all communications she had with him were recorded and discussed within the Department of Justice. They found that Stewart was in an indirect violation of an order, which she signed, that prohibited her from letting Rahman communicate to the outside world, in order to prevent terrorism (Hetherington). She thought her attorney-client privilege would be honored, and in a world where terrorism has made two words so powerful that anything can seem legal in the eyes of the government, it was not. Because of the Patriot Act the two words that hold so much power…National Security.
Bush, G.W. (Jan 1, 2006) Intelligence and the Patriot Act. Vital Speeches of the Day.
Champion, J.C. The Revamped FISA: Striking a Better Balance Between the Government’s Need to Protect Itself and the 4th Amendment. Vanderbilt Law Review.
Swartz, N. U.S. Senate, House Pass Bills to Extend Patriot Act. Information Management Journal.
Seamon, R.H. & Gardner, W.D. The Patriot Act and the Wall Between Foreign Intelligence and Law Enforcement. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.
Hetherington, P. Land of the Free; Home of the Closely Observed; The Patriot Act Brings Big Brother into the Courtroom. Iris.
Swartz, N. Patriot Act Provision Ruled Unconstitutional. Information Management Journal.
Swartz, N. Patriot Act’s Reach Expanded Despite Part Being Struck Down. Information Management Journal.
Dority, B. Your Every Move. The Humanist.
Swartz, N. U.S. Cities, States Fight Patriot Act. Information Management Journal.
No Author, Update: USA Patriot Act. www.2facts.com/ICOF/Search/i1000240.asp