In the aftermath of the 9-11 terror attacks, the American people looked to congress to help ensure their safety. The United States Congress responded by quickly passing a bill called Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, otherwise known as the PATRIOT Act (What is the USA Patriot Web). The Patriot Act has been the center of the debate over the proper balance between national security and individual liberty since its inception 45 days after the terror attacks of 9-11 (Hudson). An analysis of the Patriot Act shows that while it was constructed with noble intentions of protecting the American public it has infringed on the fundamental rights of American Citizens; however, some people believe the infringements to be a necessary evil that must be tolerated in order protect American citizens from terrorism. Nevertheless, the American public has not suffered another major terrorist attack, since the inception of the Patriot Act. However, the success of the anti-terrorism activities cannot be directly correlated with the enactment of the Patriot Act. What can be directly observed is the substantial increase in ‘unchecked powers’ the government has acquired. The Patriot Act has increased the government surveillance powers in four major areas: intelligence searches, secret searches, record searches, and ‘trap and trace’ searches (Surveillance Under the USA PATRIOT Act). The Patriot act should be revised because it provides the government with a number unchecked powers, violates the personal privacy of its citizens and violates multiple amendments of the bill of rights, even though it has credited with preventing terror acts on the U.S homeland.
The Patriot Act includes provisions that provide the government with a number of ‘unchecked powers’ that violate the American government’s system of checks and balances. The United States government is built on the principle of ‘checks and balances’ to ensure that any branch of government does not become too powerful .The executive, legislative, and judicial branches are constructed completely independent of one another and provided with powers that balance each other. However, the Patriot Act has provided the government, particularly the executive branch with powers that exceed the original intent of the constitution. Judicial oversight has become basically non-existent. The executive branch of the government only has to ‘certify’ to a judge, when conducting a search without having to provide proof or evidence. The judge cannot reject the application under any circumstance (Surveillance Under the USA PATRIOT Act). This statute provides the executive branch the ability to conduct searches with virtually no oversight from the judicial branch. The statute also denies a person or persons the right to even know that information has been gathered on them, ‘A person or organization forced to turn over records is prohibited from disclosing the search to anyone. As a result of this gag order, the subjects of surveillance never even find out that their personal records have been examined by the government'( Surveillance Under the USA PATRIOT Act). The Patriot Act clearly favors the executive branch with unbalanced, unchecked powers to help assist anti-terrorism activities but clearly violates the American Government’s system of checks and balances.
The overly broad surveillance act has also created a government overreach into American citizens’ personal privacy. Section 215 of the Patriot Act provides the government the ability to secure any tangible thing associated with a terrorism investigation, but no proof needs to provided that the item is actually related to the investigation. This is in complete disparity with the established notions which require the government to show reasonable suspicion or probable cause before undertaking an investigation that infringes upon a person’s privacy (Reform the Patriot Act). Section 206 of the Patriot Act also provides the government with powers that overreach the traditional notion of search and seizure. Section 206 provides the ability to allow government entities to attain intelligence surveillance orders that name neither the person nor the facility to be tapped. This provision allows for expansive wiretapping. The government normally must name prior to an investigation what it seeks to search and seize. (Reform the Patriot Act). The traditional fronts are not the only place the government has been invading personal privacy. The Patriot act also modifies what information they can retrieve though traditional ‘pen register’ or trap and trace searches. Section 216 modifies the compass of information that can be acquired using a pen/trap order. Pen/trap orders conventionally have only been used to acquire telephone numbers dialed and received. However, the scope has now been modified to state that law enforcement now has access to dialing, routing and signaling (Berkman Center for Internet & Society). The Patriot Act has created substantially lower standards than the previous probable cause standards used in criminal investigations. These statutes infringe on the personal privacy rights of American citizens.
The Patriot act violates the constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was created by Anti-Federalists who believed that a declaration of reserved rights was required, even with a well-constructed government with good intentions (The Creation of the Bill of Rights). The Patriot Act was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate and the House of Representatives, but obviously violates multiple amendments of the Bill of Rights. The House of Representatives voted 356-to-66, while the Senate voted 98-to-1. (Chang) The bill was passed quickly in the aftermath of 9-11, without hardly any review or over-sight committees. According to John Whitehead of the Rutherford institute ‘ the patriot act drove a stake through the bill of rights, violating at least six of the original 10- the first, fourth, fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eight- and possible the 13 and 14th, as well’ (Whitehead). One of the best examples is its blatant violation of the First amendment. The Patriot Act allows the government to monitor religious and political institutions without suspecting criminal activity to help assist with a terror investigation (US Constitution vs. The Patriot Act). This clearly violates an individual’s freedom of association. A right guaranteed by the first amendment. The Patriot Act violates even the most basic American freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. The Patriot Act must be heavily reformed to stop infringement upon American citizen’s rights.
The Patriot Act may be an extreme and dangerous piece of legislation, but it has had some success in preventing future terrorist attacks. The legislation has increased information sharing between government agencies. Information sharing allows the agencies the ability to create a more comprehensive analysis of events and to apprehend criminals and terrorist suspects more quickly and efficiently. The quick and accurate dissemination of intelligence is vital to ensure the safety of the American public. The information sharing provisions are overwhelmingly heralded by FBI Field Offices as the most important provisions in the Patriot Act and have increased the number of terrorist suspects intercepted at the borders of the United States, based on FBI reporting (Importance of USA Patriot Act to FBI Information Sharing). The most compelling argument for the proliferation of the Patriot act is that there have been no major terrorist attacks since 9-11. The Patriot act has even been accredited with stopping a number of terrorist attacks worldwide and inside the United States. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the head of the NSA, is on record stating that the programs have helped prevent ‘potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11’ and that at least 10 of the disrupted plots involved suspects or targets in the United states (Nakashima). If the Patriot act was not enacted then these potential terrorist events would have been much more likely to have been successful.
Providing law enforcement officials and entities the tools that they require for anti-terrorism operations is essential, but without the proper oversight it has become dangerous to the ideals of American government. The Patriot Act has become more detrimental to American freedoms than it is conducive to the safety of its citizens. The Government does not view its actions as unconstitutional, nor does it believe that it requires additional oversight. The government seems to believe that security and privacy are clearly inversely related, and that the loss of personal privacy is a necessary consequence of increased security. However, the American public has always been keen on protecting its civil liberties and privacy, regarding them as mandatory rights of the people. Benjamin Franklin once wrote that ‘Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”(Liberty). His sentiment still holds true today. The American government has sacrificed essential liberties in an effort to secure the safety of the American homeland; however this sacrifice is not worth the loss of civil liberties and privacy. The patriot act must be heavily reformed to restrict the unchecked powers of the government, stop the intrusions on personal privacy, restore the provisions provided by the bill of rights, but still provide American citizens with a reasonable measure of security within the bounds of the constitution.
“Berkman Center for Internet & Society.” cyber.law.harvard.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.
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