Corruption exists within all aspects of government, and has since early civilization. While many steps have been taken to prevent such corruption in other areas of the world, the United States has recently introduced legislation that has the potential to actually increase the amount of possible corruption, particularly in reference to police officers "enforcing" the law. This paper will discuss the U.S.A. Patriot Act and its follow-up legislation, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, nicknamed Patriot II, and will discuss why these legislative measures actually serve to increase corruption. Additionally, this paper will discuss the 9/11 Commission's recommendations for limiting the corruption issues made possible by the Patriot Acts.
One of the sections of the Patriot Act that has potential problems in relation to overzealous law enforcement is Section 215, which modified the previous rules on record searches. Under the Patriot Act, law enforcement no longer needs an individual's consent, nor do they require the individual to have knowledge that the search is taking place. As long as the law enforcement officers can say the effort is being done to protect against terrorism, anyone's financial, library, travel, video rental, phone, medical, church, synagogue and mosque records can be obtained (Lithwick & Turner, 2003).
One might ask, "What has changed?," since the public is generally aware that secret orders for records were allowed by the FISA courts prior to the Patriot Act. Prior to Patriot, this power to secretly obtain records was checked by two safeguards. First, the law enforcement agency had to present evidence that the person to whom the records pertained was a spy or terrorist. Secondly, few records were available by secret order, such as those related to hotels, car rental agencies, and storage facilities. Under Patriot, those safeguards have been removed, so that law enforcement can now obtain almost any record, without any justification or proof (Lithwick & Turner, 2003). Without the safeguards in place, I believe law enforcement will use the guise of "terror information" to obtain private information otherwise inaccessible to them.
In addition to Section 215, Section 218 is also a concern. Under Section 218, secret searches of homes and places of business can be authorized without public knowledge and without Department of Justice responsibility, as long as the officers can claim there is a foreign intelligence foundation for the exploration. Whereas previously, such searches required a link to foreign espionage, Patriot allows for searches with a "significant purpose" in intelligence gathering, even if that search does not pertain to a terror investigation. Even further, Section 207 lengthens the duration of the new search warrants, up to 120 days (Lithwick & Turner, 2003). I believe these sneak and peek warrants, as they are nicknamed, will again be sought out by overzealous officers who simply need more information about a case.
In light of these obvious possible problems, one might ask what other possible extensions of corruption exist as a result of Patriot? In my opinion, the list is endless. In addition to the sections above, Patriot Section 214 dramatically extends the ability of state and Federal government to perform surveillance of American people, using wiretaps and pen registers. Under Section 214, the enforcement officers need not prove there is a probable cause, but only show that the information to be gathered is "relevant." Further, Sections 202 and 217 allow law enforcement to wire tap electronic communications to investigate computer crime, even if those crimes are not related to terrorism. Enforcement officials are now allowed, under Patriot, to intercept any electronic communications, including email, faxes, instant messages, and more, without a judge's approval (Lithwick & Turner, 2003).
One could ask why this is a concern to ordinary citizens? If a person is not guilty of committing a crime, should they still be concerned? I believe the answer is absolutely. All Sections listed above allow for an increase in the secret search, surveillance, and monitoring of any American citizen, thus violating the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Patriot Act does not distinguish between false accusations or information given by law enforcement to obtain these secret surveillance warrants, and does not require proof of these supposed "terrorist information" links. Further, the Patriot act eliminates all government accountability by not requiring any proof of crime, or requiring a presentation of the evidence obtained from the secret warrants (Lithwick & Turner, 2003).
Perhaps even more concerning than the Patriot Act is the follow up legislation, that of Patriot II. The provisions contained in Patriot II further corruption possibilities even more than Patriot I. Under Patriot II, the Total Information Awareness program, which will build data profiles of all Americans, will become law. This means agents would not require a court order to access credit reports, would not have to show any criminal activity, and would not "note" the report, meaning that no one would know their report had been obtained by the government. The enforcement officials need only show their efforts were "in connection with their duties to enforce federal law" (Ramasastry, 2003).
Even more disturbing is the "Terrorist Identification Database." DNA material could be collected under Patriot II from anyone associated with any group designated as "terrorist." This association could be only donations given to the group at one time or another. Since Patriot I defined "domestic terrorism" as any action that endangers human life or is a violation of law, almost anyone could be thought to be "associated" with terrorist groups, without cause. Further, anyone convicted of a crime would have DNA collected and submitted to the database (Ramasastry, 2003). One might ask what sorts of crime would result in such an action? According to Patriot II, any crime, no matter how minor, would lead to DNA collection (Ramasastry, 2003).
Still further, already expanded surveillance powers would be increased even further, increasing the likelihood of misuse by authorities. Since Patriot II seeks to eliminate the distinction between domestic and international terrorism, all terrorism warrants could be issued by the FISA courts that are notoriously more lax in warrant grants. Patriot II also allows law enforcement to deem someone as a "foreign power," even if that person is a resident of the United States, without proof of any criminal or terrorist actions (Ramasastry, 2003).
One might ask what recourse citizens have, if they are falsely accused? In my opinion, this question brings to light the portion of Patriot II that will lead to the highest amount of corruption. Under Patriot II, law enforcement engaging in spying operations are immune from liability, even if those operations are unfounded (Ramasastry, 2003). Citizens will have no recourse against these acts by their local law enforcement agencies, even though their Constitutional rights have been violated.
In light of these obvious corruption issues in Patriot I and II, the 9/11 Commission, responsible for providing a complete account of the September 11th attacks, offered several possible solutions in their Final Report which have yet to be implemented by President Bush. In their Final Report, the 9/11 Commission recognized the criticisms against the FBI for their "overzealous domestic intelligence investigations" (9/11 Commission Final Report, 2004, p. 423). Additionally, the report noted, on page 424, that a new intelligence agency would be difficult to oversee. According to the report, the possible "abuses of civil liberties" could create a backlash that made intelligence gathering even more difficult (9/11 Commission, 2004, p. 424).
One might ask what solutions the 9/11 Commission proposed. The Committee recommended the creation of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. This board, located within the Executive Office of the President, would ensure that the privacy and civil liberties of citizens were protected. The Board would consider the implementation of any law, policy, regulation, or other action related to the protection of the U.S. against terrorism, and would ensure that no act or policy violated the Constitutional Rights of American citizens. According to the 9/11 Commission, the Board would have access to all information from all departments and agencies, unless that information would crate a national security issue. The Board could also request information from those outside the government, including documentation and other evidence. This, in my opinion, would help to ensure that the liberties of U.S. citizens were not violated unnecessarily under the guise of "terrorism protection."
Further, the 9/11 Commission recommended Congressional oversight for intelligence and counterterrorism. Their recommendations included a joint committee, or a single committee responsible for reporting activities of intelligence agencies to the House and Senate. Additionally, the committee would be responsible for analyzing all activity within the intelligence departments. I believe this would help to ensure that responsibility for inappropriate activities would be taken.
There is no question that the Patriot Act and its follower, Patriot II, severely limit the rights of citizens, and violate most of their Constitutional rights. Further, both Acts raise severe questions about the ramifications of enhanced surveillance operations of local, State, and Federal law enforcement. While the 9/11 Commission attempted to counterbalance these threats to the citizen's civil liberties, the government, intent…