Patriot Act Term Paper

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USA Patriot Act

What is the issue?

The view that had been taken by the authorities is that America was a country with too much of liberty - more than was good for its security. Along with this the feeling was that federal law enforcement agencies did not have enough powers. Thus when the situation of 9/11 came up, the government had to act, the least it could do was to stop future such incidences from happening, and it came up with Patriot Act. The new act has turned America into a country where there is now less privacy and possibly increased security. One of the main areas where privacy has disappeared is financial positions. (More Surveillance Equals Less Liberty: Patriot Act reduces privacy, undercuts judicial review)

The situation is that banks, brokerage houses, insurers and all other financial institutions have now been forced to become state informers. The government has the power to get hold of the checking account records of any person, without any evidence of wrong doing. The concerned organizations have to keep the government informed. This is the success achieved by the government authorities. Let us now look at the expressed views as justification for what is being stated. The divisional counsel for the Los Angeles division of the FBIR, Stephen Kramer is on record as writing "Contrary to the Register's views that the act was cobbled together in haste after 9/11, the act actually intelligently addressed laws and policies that had placed unnecessary restraints on the FBI's ability to gather, analyze and share terrorism-related information. In other areas, the act updated federal laws - written in the era of rotary telephones - to account for new technologies such as the Internet and voice-mail." (Highlights of the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act)

Congressman Todd Platts has written in the York Daily Record that USA Patriot Act has helped law enforcement officials to use the methods that were available to them for fighting organized crime, child pornography, or drug investigations. The tools were also useful in conducting international terrorism investigations and also the tools available for civil liberties protections. These actions are expected to ensure that the constitutional rights of American citizens are not infringed. It is believed by these authorities that the intelligence and law enforcement officials can now work together to defend citizens against threats that are posed by terrorists. The main question was whether that was the objective of Patriot Act. (Highlights of the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act)

This view has been taken by the 9/11 commission was that a wall had been erected between the intelligence gathering organizations and agencies for law enforcement was one of the main reasons for the events that happened. They were also deemed to be a main reason for the government's failure to act. After the incident, Congress had taken steps to enforce the lessons that they had learnt so that there will be no terrorist attacks. One of these resulted in the Patriot Act. The statement of Orrin Hatch is also clear; "I personally believe that if these tools [in the Patriot Act] had been in law - and we have been trying to get them there for years - we would have caught those [9/11] terrorists. If these tools could help us now to track down the perpetrators-if they will help us in our continued pursuit of terrorists-then we should not hesitate to enact these measures into law. God willing, the legislation we pass today will enhance our abilities to protect and prevent the American people from ever again being violated as we were on September 11." (USA PATRIOT Act Quote of the Day)

At the same time, now that the power has been collected by the government, it is leading to different actions on the part of citizens. There was a roundtable conference on the Act held at Missouri, Kansas City on September 16, 2002. The meet was sponsored by the Department of Political Science of the University there. Statements there clearly mentioned that the law which was passed on October 29 had only increased the power of the attorney general to a level that he never had earlier. At the same time it granted a lot of powers to the agencies for intelligence and law enforcement, and made them practically free from control by the judicial authorities. The biggest example of this is in the ability of the government to tap the activities of an individual on the telephone and on the Internet. (Prosecution vs. Prevention - The Logic for the Patriot Act)

The agencies do not have to give any reason for their activities and also do not have to account for their findings to anybody. The arguments continued in the same vein and this was regarding the position of Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi. They had been classified as 'enemy combatants' and lodged in military prisons. The status conferred on them was that they were not entitled to the trial that U.S. citizens are entitled to. Ultimately, Hamdi was deported to U.S. though he had been confined in prisons of United States for three years. There was also a high level campaign launched by FBI and Department of Justice and that is embarrassing, to say the least. (Prosecution vs. Prevention - The Logic for the Patriot Act) These actions clearly show that they are highhanded to say the least, and such actions can only arise when the concept of power with the authorities reach a level of absolute power.

The logic for steps taken:

The policymakers showed the reasons of lack of power as the logic for the law, but what they did was to enforce their natural law of using power. They ended up passing laws to maintain and strengthen their political position. Is it not clear that the main reason for the act was enforcement by the authorities of their 'natural rights' as per the arguments given above? Let us now look at the act in a little more detail though the full act cannot be studied here as it is quite a large piece of legislation. Even according to the authorities the "Patriot Act was a long overdue measure to close gaping holes in the government's ability, responsibly and lawfully, to collect vital intelligence information on criminal terrorists to protect our citizens from savage attacks such as those which occurred on September 11, 2001." (Statement of Barbara Comstock, Director of Public Affairs regarding Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act)

The aim of the law was to update the government's ability to take care of changes that have taken place due to modern technology and use tools for fighting terrorism in line with the tools that are now used for drug and organized crime cases. Then let us have the views on Section 215 from the government, and Section 215 is one of the most disputed areas. According to the government it applies to business records in general and not specifically library records. (Statement of Barbara Comstock, Director of Public Affairs regarding Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act) How can anyone then say that Patriot Act is relevant to 'protection of America'?

The view of the opposition to the act is different and they state that this section modifies the rule on searches. The opposition says that anybody having records of financial statements of parties, library records, travel records, video rental records, phone user records, medical service records, church records, synagogue records, and mosque records can be asked to provide details about the users of their use of services. The organizer who maintains the records has just got to give them and cannot object if the government or its agencies say that the purpose is to fight terrorism. (A Guide to the Patriot Act, Part 1) Again, the government says that the order respects first amendment rights, requires a court order if any business records are to be obtained, is subjected to reporting to the congress and supervision on a regular basis. (Statement of Barbara Comstock) The restrictions in Section 215 for getting hold of records are more stringent than the restrictions given in a federal jury subpoena for getting the same records. The question to be asked here is whether the federal grand jury and organizations permitted to use Section 215 are at the same level or are they expected to take the place of federal grand juries? This again reinforces the belief that it is an attempt by the government to take over the powers that should be obtained from the use of other processes.

As a support for the statement given by the government, the proof is given from a statement of the House Judiciary Committee which states regarding Section 215 that the "Committee's review of classified information related to FISA orders for tangible records, such as library records, has not given rise to any concern that the authority is being misused or abused." (Statement of Barbara Comstock, Director of Public Affairs regarding Section 215 of the…[continue]

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