Patriot Act Term Paper

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Patriot Act

In response to the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act, an act that gives federal officials more authority to track and intercept communications, for both law enforcement and foreign intelligence gathering purposes (Doyle, 2002). The Patriot Act also gives the Secretary of the Treasury regulatory powers to prevent corruption of U.S. financial institutions for foreign money laundering purposes.

The U.S.A. Patriot Act was an urgent response to the terrorist attacks and, thus, was a bill that passed through the legislative and executive branches quickly. As a result, the Patriot Act was a controversial topic. According to Charles Doyle, Senior Specialist at the American Law Division, the Patriot Act "seeks to further close our borders to foreign terrorists and to detain and remove those within our borders. It creates new crimes, new penalties, and new procedural efficiencies for use against domestic and international terrorists. Although it is not without safeguards, critics contend some of its provisions go too far. Although it grants many of the enhancements sought by the Department of Justice, others are concerned that it does not go far enough (Doyle, 2002)" This statement sums up the debate that arose during the process of approving the U.S.A. Patriot Act, as leaders struggled to make the best possible decision to protect the U.S. And its citizens in a time of emergency.

The Patriot Act originated as The Act originated as H.R.2975 in the House and S.1510 in the Senate (Doyle, 2002). S.1510 passed the Senate on October 11, 2001. The House Judiciary Committee reported out an amended version of H.R. 2975 on the same day. The House passed H.R. 2975 the following day after substituting the content of H.R. 3108. The House version included most of the money laundering provisions found in a previous House bill, H.R. 3004, many of which had counterparts in S.1510, which were approved by the Senate. The House later passed a clean bill, H.R. 3162 (under suspension of the rules), which resolved the differences between H.R. 2975 and S.151. The Senate agreed to the changes and H.R. 3162 was sent to President George W. Bush, who signed it on October 26, 2001. The Patriot Act will expire in 2005 unless it is renewed. This paper will discuss the history and controversial issues of the Patriot Act, in an effort to demonstrate how the bill will prevent civil liberties from jeopardizing civil protection.


On September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon shook the United States and the rest of the world. However, they did more that just trigger a national wave of grief and terror. They also rekindled a smoldering debate over the proper use of government power to examine the lives of citizens. In a nutshell, the argument came down to this: "In an age of high-tech terror, what is the proper balance between national security and the privacy of millions of Americans, whose personal information is already more widely available than ever before? Telephone records, e-mails, oceans of detail about individuals' lives -- the government wanted access to all of it to hunt down terrorists before they struck (O'Harrow, 2002)."

Immediately following the terrorist attacks, the seeds of the Patriot Act were planted, as Washington leaders participated in closed-door debates over how much new power the government should have to protect national security. The terrorist attacks were not the only focus of these meetings. U.S. leaders had to consider many setbacks in history, including the Cold War redbaiting, J. Edgar Hoover's smear campaigns, and Watergate-era wiretaps.

A fundamental issue that plagued this dispute was a group of little-known laws and rules that, over the last half a century, defined and limited the government's legal ability to snoop: "Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act governed electronic eavesdropping. The "pen register, trap and trace" rules covered the use of devices to track the origin and destination of telephone calls. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, regulated the power to spy domestically when seeking foreign intelligence information (O'Harrow, 2002)."

The Bush Administration, the Justice Department and Congress voted to relax these limitations as soon as possible, arguing that, while these laws were intended to protect individuals and political groups from abuse by the FBI, CIA and other groups, they were also a major cause of the intelligence gaps on September 11 (O'Harrow, 2002). The government also wanted new authority to secretly detain individuals suspected of terrorism and to enlist financial institutions in the search for terrorist financing. In addition, leaders wanted greater access to business databases filled with information about the lives of citizens. Increased access to private information, they argued, would dramatically aid the search for terrorists in the U.S. And overseas.

Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, and other civil libertarians agreed that the pre-Sept. 11th laws were outdated, but for different reasons (O'Harrow, 2002). According to civil libertarians, the existing laws already gave the government access to a vast amount of information that was unavailable a decade ago. Thus, giving investigators more power, they argued, would lead to privacy invasions and abuses.

As the U.S. tried to recover from the enormous blow to the country, the first legislative proposals appeared in the Senate just two days later (O'Harrow, 2002). The first proposal was titled the Combating Terrorism Act of 2001. Sept 19th brought the administration's draft bill, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001. On October 2nd, House bill 2975, the "Patriot Act" was introduced, and then on October 5th Senate bill 1510, the "USA" act was introduced. House and senate leaders work to resolve the differences between HR2975 and S1510.

By the time the U.S.A. Patriot Act, a combination of the two acts, was approved by Congress and signed on October 26, 2001 by President Bush, the government had managed to claim more powers than even the most ardent law enforcement supporters considered politically possible before the attacks.

History of the Patriot Act

In early October 2001, the House Judiciary Committee voted 36-0 in favor of an anti-terrorism bill written by GOP and Democratic leaders but opposed by civil libertarians (McCullagh, October 4, 2001).

During House meetings, which included votes on amendments to the bill, committee members said that the amended version of the Patriot Act, which was based loosely on the increased police powers that President Bush had requested, was a reasonable compromise between liberty and security.

Rep. Robert Scott (D-Virginia) said: "Much of this bill will be an effort to give authority and then safeguard against abuses (McCullagh, October 4, 2001)." At this point, even arch-conservative legislator Bob Barr (R-Georgia), who had previously criticized the Patriot Act, agreed that the act was necessary to combat terrorism. "We were able to eliminate or severely limit the most egregious violations of Americans' civil liberties that were contained in the original proposal," said Barr.

However, the Patriot Act was not passed without debate. Opponents argued that certain provisions would violate the rights of the people. The following points were the subject of great debate in the early October discussions (McCullagh, October 4, 2001):

the ease with which police could eavesdrop on the Internet, expanded information-sharing between police, the CIA and similar agencies, and potentially intrusive surveillance of users by their Internet providers.

As a result, committee members introduced several more amendments but withdrew nearly all of the proposed changes that did not enjoy majority support. The following amendments were approved (McCullagh, October 4, 2001):

study of how biometric identification systems -- tied to the FBI fingerprint database -- could be used at U.S. borders and consular offices to nab anyone wanted for a crime. The attorney general has 90 days to prepare a report.

An attempt to limit "forum-shopping" by prosecutors seeking wiretap orders. Since the Patriot Act gives courts the power to order wiretapping anywhere in the U.S., Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) said she was concerned that "it would encourage the government to engage in forum searching. If the court that issues the warrant is far from the defendant, it becomes difficult for the person to contest it."

Assurance that Internet providers, which will be required to cooperate with law enforcement's requests for surveillance of users, will not be forced to retool their networks solely for police convenience.

Allowance for individuals to sue police who leak information obtained in a wiretap. According to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts):"If information gained during surveillance is improperly released, you have a right to go in and sue, with a minimum award of $10,000. If someone goes in and wins, the head of the agency which released the information must either initiate action against the leaker or will have to explain why this action was not taken."

The Patriot Act's sponsors, House Judiciary chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), tried to convince committee members that they should not make additional changes, as the bill could be reworked before the full…[continue]

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