Patriot Act Term Paper

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Patriot Act

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States had severe and immediate consequences. One of the most far-reaching of these is probably the ease with which terrorists were able to plan and carry out the attacks. This brought the government's attention certain shortcomings in the security measures in place at the time. The U.S.A. PATRIOT Act is one of the controversial results of the government's panicky response to the 9/11 attacks. It might be seen as an unobjective and emotional response to a time of crisis. Indeed, the increasing negative responses to the Act appears to substantiate the notion that the Act was passed in haste, without the opportunity for sufficient debate and in-depth thought.

PATRIOT" is an acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism." This Act provides the government and its law enforcement agencies with several freedoms that have been unheard of before 9/11. What makes the Act controversial is that surveillance and investigative powers are increased, while no system of checks to safeguard civil liberties are provided (Podesta).

A further problem is the haste with which the Act was introduced - less than a week after September 11, 2001. The Act was signed by President Bush on October 26 of that year. No House, Senate or conference reports accompanied the passing of the Act (Podesta). The Act is furthermore an expansion of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 (ATA). This Act was also intended to strengthen the United States against terrorist attacks. While this act did expand the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access private and personal information, there were safeguards against blatant constitutional violations. One of these safeguards was the "sunset provision," which determined that certain sections of the Act expired after a period of time if not renewed by Congress. Judicial oversight was also provided in terms of the use of the FBI's Carnivore system. The somewhat hysterical implementation of the PATRIOT Act however does not include any of these safeguards. Indeed, this has caused increasing discontent with the apparent violation of constitutional civil liberties, without the benefit of any authoritative oversight or protective expiry. Much of this, according to Podesta, is due to the lack of debate after September 11.

Indeed, before September 11, 2001, many of the provisions of the Act were already being proposed and debated. Those relating to electronic surveillance were criticized especially harshly (Podesta). After the attacks however, it appears that all misgivings gave way to panic, which gave way in its turn to passing the Act as quickly as possible.

Podesta warns that many of the provisions in the current Act give legal authorities the right to harass innocent individuals who want to do nothing more than exercise their constitutional rights. This is especially so for certain groups of people within the United States. Immigrants, most notably those of Arab origin, and those with Islam as their religion, are for example seen as potentially more dangerous than the average individual. This is blatant discrimination in terms of both race and religion. It is also something that the United States has worked long and hard to eradicate.

This is also a concern of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This institution has taken the task upon itself to raise awareness of civil liberties in the minds of citizens who may still be overly sensitive towards certain aspects of life after the terrorist attacks. The PATRIOT Act, as its name suggests, is supposed to protect the citizens of the country against attacks from across its borders. However, it defeats its own purpose in attacking from within the very people it is supposed to protect. Indeed, it achieves the very opposite in provoking a fear and paranoia reminiscent of atrocious historical events such as the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials.

The ACLU reveals several groups of people targeted unfairly by the PATRIOT Act, to the extent that the Constitution is being violated. The example of Arab and Muslim persons has already been mentioned. Furthermore neighbors are expected to report on neighbors with regard to actions that "appear" suspicious. Turning friends against each other like this is not only reminiscent of the above-mentioned historical events, it also cultivates unnecessary fear where none is necessary.

Furthermore the Act gives law enforcement agencies the right to search any building or residence that might prove suspect. Such suspicion, it appears, is easy to provoke. Thus it is more likely than not that an innocent, law abiding citizen would be at the very least inconvenienced by such an action. The agency in question also does not need to notify the occupant of a search beforehand, nor do they need to perform the search in the occupant's presence, and notification may also only occur well after the search (ACLU).

A third target of the PATRIOT Act, apart from ordinary citizens and immigrants of a certain race, is the press. The press has had to relinquish vital information in order to protect the government's wish to protect its nation. Others however argue that such protection leads only to a fundamental lack of trust. A government who is honest about all events surrounding the war on terrorism is much more trustworthy than one whose secrets are revealed only at a later time (O'Brien).

It appears then, as the rights of the government and its agencies increase, the rights and liberties of the American people decrease. The provisions of the PATRIOT Act has certain oppressive qualities that cannot be tolerated in the United States if its ideology and its way of life are to survive. The implications of the above oppressive actions are that fear is cultivated from within the United States' borders. Citizens fear each other based on religion and race, because the government has targeted a specific religion and race to be more prone to terrorist violence. Citizens also fear each other based on spying tactics, as a result of the provisions made in the PATRIOT Act. Finally, citizens will learn to distrust the government that is supposed to protect them, because the press is not given its constitutionally guaranteed freedom.

The above are all things for which the United States have rightly expressed outraged when encountered in other countries. If the government continue undermining its citizens' way of life in this manner, democracy will become a thing of the past. This is because the PATRIOT Act does not provide for a balance between liberty and security. The scale is currently tilted heavily in the direction of security. Security without liberty however becomes tyranny.

To demonstrate the necessity of the PATRIOT Act and what it stands for, Chairman Hatch has made the statement that security and individual freedom are interconnected. With this he means to warn the American citizen that freedom will not be possible without security. The security measures brought about by the Act should therefore be tolerated in the name of "future" freedoms that may not currently be possible.

The sad thing is that many Americans are happy to comply with whatever measures their government sees fit to employ in its "war on terrorism." The same Americans should however be careful to recognize that freedom and security should operate side by side, in balance. Chairman Hatch and other politicians who hastily, under threat of additional attack, threw together the PATRIOT Act and passed it, fail to recognize that they are steering the country towards tyranny.

In conclusion, the United States has fought long and hard to become the land of opportunity for all. To take such opportunity away from an immigrant because of his religion or race is directly against an ideal in cultivation for hundreds of years. Worse still, doing this would mean that the terrorists were successful (Russell).…[continue]


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