Analyzing the Patriot Act Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :


The United States of America's PATRIOT Act (formally the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Interpret and Obstruct Terrorism Act) was a hurriedly created legislation against terrorism reacting to the terror attack on September 11, 2001. Little debate and oversight was given to the large, complex law by the Congress and President George W. Bush signed it into law on October 26, 2001. PATRIOT offers sweeping surveillance, and search to both domestic officers and foreign intelligence agencies and removes many checks and balances that initially gave the courts the chance to make sure that the powers were never abused. The developing PATRIOT and follow-up legislation (Gouvin, 2003) threaten the basic rights of most Americans.

The Origin

The United States of America PATRIOT Act, also known as USAPA brought in several legislative amendments that had a significant increase on the investigative and surveillance powers of the U.S. law enforcement agents. However, the law did not make provisions for the checks and balances system that provide the traditional protection to civil liberties when such legislation is enacted.

Legislative suggestions following the September 11 attacks in 2001 were enacted within a week following the attacks. President Bush signed the final bill, the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act into law on October 26, 2001(Michaels, 2005). Though more than 15 relevant laws were amended by the Act, its introduction was quite hasty and its passage witnessed very little debates, and there was a total lack of any report from the Senate, House, or any conference. Following this, background legislative history was missing which mostly provides important retrospective legal interpretation.

The Act represents a compromise edition of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), an extensive legislative plan aimed at strengthening the defense of the country against terrorism (Michaels, 2005). Several provisions were added to ATA that largely expanded the power of law enforcement and other intelligence outfits to check private communications and gain access to personal details. The resultant legislation involved some relevant additions from the initial proposal of the administration: most apparently, the supposed provision (which provides that many sections of the act expire automatically after a certain period, except when congress renews them explicitly); on some provisions on electronic surveillance, and an amendment that provides judicial omission, the use of the FBI's Carnivore system by the law enforcement.

When the Bush administration introduced the legislative proposals following the September 11, 2001 attacks, John Ashcroft, the then attorney General Mandated Congress to pass the bill within one week -- without making any amendments. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, partly succeeded in convincing the Department of Justice to consent to certain amendments, and members of the house started making very important improvements (Gouvin, 2003). Nevertheless, the Attorney General gave a warning that more terrorist' attacks were imminent, and that any failure on the part of the Congress to ensure the bill is passed without delays will make members of the Congress answerable to any further attacks.

Widespread and rushed deliberations in the Senate gave rise to a bipartisan bill, devoid of most of the concessions Senator Leahy had earlier won. The majority Senate leader, Senator Thomas Daschle, sought general consent to pass the bill without amendment or debate; The only member who objected was Senator Russ Feingold. Minor amendments were carried out in the House, which oversaw the passage of the bill 357-66. There was a quick reconciliation between the House and the Senate, and on October 26, 2001, the bill was signed into law (Gouvin, 2003).

Implementation of the Act

The PATRIOT Act permits the investigators to utilize the already available tools to carry out investigation on drug trafficking and organized crime. Most of the tools provided by the Act to the law enforcement agents to combat the terrorism menace have been utilized for several decades to combat organized crimes and drug traffickers, and the judiciary has given it a review and subsequent approval. According to Senator Joe Bidden (D-DE), at the time of the floor debate on the Act, the FBI could investigate the mafia by getting a wiretap, but it will not be easy to get a wiretap to carry out investigations on the terrorists. Bluntly put, that was quite insane! What is termed good for the mafia should also be good for the ruthless terrorists (Wong, 2007).

The PATRIOT Act empowers law enforcement agents to make use of surveillance to fight more terror-related crimes. Prior to the PATRIOT Act, law enforcement agents would need the permission of the courts to carry out electronic surveillance to carry out investigations on several common crimes that do not relate to terrorism, like drug-related crimes, passport and mail fraud. The law enforcement agents could equally get wiretaps to carry out investigations on some of the crimes committed by terrorists, but not all of them. The Act made it possible for the investigators to gather details when studying the wide range of crimes that relate to terrorism, such as chemical-weapon crimes, using weapons of mass destruction, financing terrorism, and killing Americans overseas. It allows federal agents to track difficult terrorists trained to escape detection. For several years, the law enforcement has been able to make use of roving wiretaps to carry out investigations on ordinary crimes, which includes drug racketeering and trafficking.

A federal judge can give approval for the use of a roving wiretap to apply to a certain suspect, instead of a certain phone or any other such communication device, since international terrorists are trained to evade surveillance measures put up to track their movements by changing both locations and communication devices rapidly. These communication devices include cell phones and computers, and according to the Act, agents can seek the permission of the court to adopt the same techniques in investigations that concern national security for tracking down the terrorists (Wong, 2007).

The Act makes it possible for law enforcement agents to carry out investigations without alerting the terrorists. If the criminals get tipped off early into the investigation, they might destroy evidence, flee, intimidate the witness, severe contacts with associates, take actions to escape arrest or even kill witnesses (Woods, 2005). Thus, in prudent situations, federal courts have long allowed the law enforcement agents to delay surveillance for a while once the subject has been informed that a search warrant approved by the judiciary has been carried out. There is always a notice, but the sensible delay enables the law enforcement to gain enough time to identify the associates of the criminals, preempt urgent community threats, and arrange the arrests of several individuals without their being alerted. The delays of the notification of such search warrants have been in use for a couple of decades, and has been successful in combating several organized crime and drug-related cases, and the courts have always upheld that they adhere by the constitution completely.

The Act makes it convenient for agents to request an order from a court to get relevant business records in cases involving national terrorism. Assessing business records offer vital information needed by the investigators to help them solve a number of crimes. Investigators might go in search of certain records from chemical plants or hardware stores, for instance, to discover who purchased the materials used for the bomb production, or check bank records to discover who has been transferring funds to terrorist's organizations. Law enforcement personnel have never failed to gain access to important business records in such criminal cases through magnificent jury subpoenas, and keep doing so in cases of national security when necessary. These records were searched for, in some criminal cases like the Zodiac Gunman investigation, suspected by the police to have gotten his inspiration from the Scottish occult poet, and tried to know who had borrowed the poet's books from the library (Woods, 2005). In cases threatening national security, where it was not appropriate to adopt the grand jury technique, investigators initially had very inadequate tools available to them to access certain important business records.

According to the PATRIOT Act, a federal court can now be asked by the government (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court), if the court needs the government's help to facilitate the investigation process, to give order for the creation of similar records available through the subpoenas of the grand jury (Wong, 2007). However, the federal court, can issue such provisions only after the records in question have been demonstrated to be sought for a legal investigation to access international intelligence details that do not concern a United States citizen or to provide protection against clandestine intelligence activities or international terrorism, so long as such investigation on a citizen of the United States is not solely conducted on the ground of the activities the First Amendment protects.

The PATRIOT Act facilitated information sharing and teamwork among government functionaries and this made it easier for all involved to link up the dots more easily. The Act removed the main barriers that prevented the intelligence, national defense communities, and law…

Sources Used in Document:


Condon, S. (June 2, 2015). NSA surveillance reform bill now law. CBS News. Retrieved from / on 22 March 2016

Gouvin, Eric J. (2003). Bringing Out the Big Guns: The U.S.A. PATRIOT Act, Money Laundering and the War on Terrorism. Baylor Law Review 55: 955.

Liu, Edward C. (2011). Amendments to FISA Extended to 2015. Congressional Research Service.

Michaels, C. William. (2005). No Greater Threat: America Since September 11 and the Rise of the National Security State. Algora Publishing.

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