Patriot Act Overview

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Patriot Act Debate: Pros and Cons



Arguments in favor of the Patriot Act

The Patriot Act was passed soon after the terrorists attacks of 2001 on America. The aim of the act was to improve the counter terrorism efforts the country to help prevent future such attacks.

The act allows the government and the government security agencies to use the tools that were already available in order to investigate organized crime and drug trafficking which was believed to be financing the terrorists (Cassella, 2003).

The act also allowed the security agencies to engage in using of greater surveillance methods and tools against crimes of terror. This included the conduct of electronic surveillance to investigate any ordinary and non-terrorism crimes that included drug crimes, mail frauds and passport frauds. The security agencies could tap in phone calls and all of their forms of electronic information and data transfer between people who are not suspected to be terrorists or having terrorist links. Security agencies could also rightfully gather information about a particular individual or group from a third party to investigate crime (Shapiro, 2005). The act also facilitated the sharing of information among the various intelligence agencies for prevention of crime, primarily terrorist attacks. The thrust of the surveillance was to tap and seek information from the new technologies and new threats especially the digital media.

The Patriot Act Debate: pros and cons

The patriot act significantly increased the surveillance powers of the government agencies over suspected elements and individuals and even non-suspects.

Section 215 of the act allowed the government agencies the power to be able to search the records of individuals that were held by third parties. Section 213 allowed the agencies to conduct searches on private property without any intimation to the owner. The scope for intelligence agencies for collecting foreign intelligence information was increased by the act and the collection of information about the origin and destination of communications through 'trap and trace' searches ('Bush Defends Domestic Wiretapping Program; Congress Reauthorizes Patriot Act', 2006).

There is continuing debate over the scope of surveillance granted by the act where those opposing the powers claim that the powers tend to infringe on the freedom of individuals. The security agencies can eves drop on any communication of anyone in the country without the court's approval and without any apparent valid reason.


However those supporting the act claim that the act has in fact been an instrument to safeguard the security of the people of America from terrorist attacks. Easing the process of surveillance has allowed the security agencies to carry out searches and investigate matters of national security with ease and without the usual legal restrictions.

The surveillance acts prior to the Patriot act were very cumbersome and often acted as a hindrance to security agencies. Abiding by laws prior to the Patriot Act, any information spread through more than one state would have required the agencies to seek separate search warrants from separate judges in order to conduct surveillance and searches in all the states concerned. This hindrance has been removed by the Patriot Act thus smoothening the process of collection of data and information for the purpose of preventing, detecting and investigating crimes and terrorist acts (Daly, 2006).

The act, while granting easy access to the security agencies to monitor and survey suspected activities, has helped speed up the process of investigation. The joint sharing of information across government security agencies has also helped in increasing the speed of investigations thus tightening the internal security of the nation.

The roving wiretaps clause in the Patriot Act has enabled the security agencies to tap on to suspected terrorist activities and related crimes. Post the twin Tower attacks in 2001, it had become evident that the terrorists and related crimes made extensive use of cloud based information and digital technology to communicate and pass on information to each other. The scope of the security agencies to wiretap several instruments of communication like computers, mobiles and emails has eliminated the need for obtaining separate authorization for each of the devices (Rogers, 2006). This has increased speed of surveillance and has limited the scope of the potential terrorists of being able to contact one another through the use of sophisticated technologies for communication (Tanner, 2013).

In acts prior to the Patriot Act, suspects had to be intimated about the possibility of surveillance according to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that grants individuals the right to be secured from searches and seizures that might seem unreasonable. Other act of surveillance such as the Wiretap Act, Stored Communications Act, Pen Register Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act or the Economic Espionage Act were used to describe and then seek authorization for surveillance and seizures. These were cumbersome and very complex and hence the patriot Act has been able to ease out the entire process. The act has allowed the security agencies to be able to eves drop on any conversation that they deem a threat to national security without necessarily alerting a potential terrorist cell.

The increased speed of investigation into possible cries and terrorist acts has enabled the government agencies to be a step ahead of the terrorists and in case of suspected malfeasance or a planned attack the government would be able to strike quickly, thereby mitigating the threat at a nascent stage before it gets into a full blown attack.

The act has also enabled the victims of terrorist attacks to receive the compensation that they needed in order to properly recover from a traumatic ordeal like a terrorist attack. The act has removed the hindrances to the funding costs to victims.

The wider access to foreign intelligence information for the security agencies made possible by the Patriot Act has enabled the accumulation of data that is related to the actual or potential attacks or grave hostile acts of a foreign agent that can relate to sabotage, international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, clandestine intelligence activity against America. This has not only strengthened the internal security of the U.S. But also accorded potential safety to other states and countries that might face such potential dangers from foreign sources. Such security has awarded security to people as well as business on American soil and for AUS corporate.


There however have been many voices in the U.S. that have criticized the extensive powers of surveillance that is given by the Patriot Act. The primary critique is that the act is that it violates the fundamental principle of liberty as enshrined in the American Constitution. For example, the 4th Amendment of the constitution guarantees safety of individuals from searches and seizures that might seem unreasonable.

The extensive powers granted to security agencies for surveillance on private citizens of America essentially violate the right to privacy of the individuals. Critics claim that there is virtually no means of communication that cannot be put under surveillance and hence the private life of citizens is under threat and there is nothing as privacy for American citizens.

Many also feel that the act has given rise to unnecessary use of vital security resources which could have otherwise been sued fruitfully in reduction of crime. The massive government spending for surveillance, even for U.S. citizens based abroad, is considered to be waste of vita resources by many (Daly, 2006).

Other critics also claim that the in the guise of prevention of terrorist attacks too much of power has been accorded to the government. The act has given power to the security agencies essentially to investigate anyone they deem fit and without any substantial proof for investigation.

Critics also claim that over the years that the act was passed, there have been several instances of unlawful imprisonment, for example in the Guantanamo Bay where suspected terrorists had been unlawfully detained on the basis of the Patriot Act. Such enormous powers given to the government security agencies have also given rise to fear and hostility.

The act also empowers the security agencies to track the actions of private citizens who have had no previous involvement in any terrorist activities whatsoever. Critics claim that the government has not been able to provide enough assurance to the citizens that none would be harassed without justified reason (Rogers, 2006).

Arguments In favor of the Patriot Act

In this paper the focus is on the effectiveness of the Patriot Act, the primary argument being that the act has empowered the security agencies that have been able to prevent any terrorist acts like that of Twin Tower attacks of 2001. The act has also been able to crack and reduce many crimes related to drugs and other terrorism funding crimes. The advantages of the Patriot Act have been enumerated above and evidence enough to root for extension of the act.

The act has been able to increase the national security through the access of sensitive information which was otherwise nearly inaccessible and cumbersome to get access…

Sources Used in Documents:


Alexander, K. (2011). The implications of the "USA Patriot Act" and U.S. counter-terrorism on international human rights law. Ac, 2003(49). doi:10.14296/ac.v2003i49.1044

Bush Defends Domestic Wiretapping Program; Congress Reauthorizes Patriot Act. (2006). Foreign Policy Bulletin, 16(04). doi:10.1017/s105270360600044x

Cassella, S. (2003). Provisions of the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act relating to asset forfeiture in transnational cases. Journal Of Financial Crime, 10(4), 303-307. doi:10.1108/13590790310808961

Daly, R. (2006). MH Advocates Pursue Concerns About Patriot Act. Psychiatric News, 41(2), 10-10. doi:10.1176/pn.41.2.0010

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