On October 26, 2001, just 43 days after the World Trade Center was leveled to the ground, the USA PATRIOT Act or what is commonly known as the Patriot Act, was made into a law. Swift as it may be, this decision was what most Americans thought the nation needed at that time.
After its reform in 2006, the 2011 signing of President Obama of the PATRIOT Sunset Extension act of 2011, the expiration of some parts of the Act in June 1, 2015 and the restoration of the same, after the passage of the USA Freedom Act a day after, the debate on the significance and effect of the enacted Bill refuses to die down. Were the Americans quick to support the Bill because of the horrifying 9/11 event or is this really the most effective way to preserve life and liberty?
What Is The USA Patriot Act?
Enacted by the 107th United States Congress, this is the acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. As the title suggests, this Act was signed into law with the goal to protect the nation and the American Citizens from terrorists and ensure the tragedy in September 2011 will never happen again. Its inception has brought about some changes to U.S. law, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) and the Immigration and Nationality Act, among others. Here are some of the contentious issues from proponents and opponents to the Patriots Act.
What Are the Pros of the USA Patriot Act
1. It streamlines the surveillance process and makes it easier for the government to identify terrorists.
Before the Act was made into law, surveillance on persons of interest consisted of different steps such as getting separate authorizations to wiretap phones. With the Act, FBI agents are now authorized to act and tap the phones used by a suspected criminal or terrorist without having to make individual requests. This has cut down the time agents carry out their tasks and results are available faster. Communications among agencies are faster with the Act.
2. It supports families of the victims of terrorist attacks.
Part of the provisions of the Act included the granting of special immigrant status to grandparents, of a child whose parents were killed in September 2001 while at work at the World Trade Center, with either one being a citizen, national or having lawful permanent status on the day before the attack. Other cases on immigration status are included in the provisions of the Act and are to be addressed accordingly.
3. It makes possible the rebuilding of infrastructures and businesses destroyed in terrorist attacks.
Aside from supporting the families of the victims of 9/11, buildings and businesses affected by terrorist bombings and other crimes related to terrorism are being given financial support. This way, the structures can be rebuilt and the traces of the attack will be eliminated. Moreover, businesses can get back to normal operations in no time, which is a good thing for business owners who suffered losses in sales and profit.
4. It protects the First Amendment.
To refute the argument of opponents that the Act violates freedom of speech in connection to FBI agents to apply for an order to produce records, proponents say that instead, it protects the First Amendment, protects it. They say that records such as books can be vital in the investigation process of a suspected terrorist that if overlooked, can lead to hundreds, if not thousands of death if a terrorist attack is carried out. For instance, a potential bomber had borrowed several books from a library which are connected to explosives. With the access given to FBI agents, it will be possible for them to uncover this and put the individual to justice.
5. It strengthens national security and deters terrorism.
After the Act was enacted, there have been hundreds of terrorism-related convictions and this clearly shows its efficacy. With the stringent provisions of the act and the streamlined surveillance process, the potential threats to national security by terrorists are more likely to be prevented since planned attacks will be unfolded and intercepted.
What Are the Cons of the USA Patriot Act
1. It is unconstitutional.
One controversial issue thrown by opponents of the Act is the immigration provision that allowed the Attorney General to have an alien detained indefinitely if the former suspects the latter will be able to instigate a terrorist attack. A critic openly referred to this similar to the way the Taliban carry out justice. Other critical groups are also concerned about the new power given to the Attorney General on determining the fate of immigrants, saying the provision does not even conform and pass the basic constitutional standards of due process.
2. It results to abuses on privacy.
Opponents also describe the potential abuses the Act can bring about when it comes to people’s privacy, including Canadians residing in the province of British Columbia (B.C.). Concerns are raised in relation to the Act allowing the access of vital information such as medical records of Canadians working in American companies that outsource jobs.
3. It violates freedom of speech.
The provision that allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to order for the production of tangible materials as part of investigation has earned criticisms from librarians. This part of the Act gives permission to the FBI to ask for records. Including documents and books from libraries it deems vital to the investigation process related to terrorism. The American Library Association openly opposes this provision and suggests that librarians should consult attorneys before complying with the orders made by the government agency.
For the last 14 years, the USA PATRIOT Act has undergone scrutiny and changes with the unfaltering vision to prevent terrorists from inflicting pain on Americans and destroying lives and property. While it has assured national security in certain levels, it has also gained criticism from being too extreme at some point. With the benefits and drawbacks that go with the Act, it is best to consider if the pros outweigh the cons and decide if it merits further renewal come 2019.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.