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Analysis Of The 2001 Usa Patriot Act

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Analysis and Recommendation of the 2001 USA Patriot Act

I. Introduction

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks US Congress passed legislation known as the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 commonly known as the USA Patriot Act. This paper will attempt to prove that not only is the USA Patriot Act unconstitutional but many of its provisions do nothing at all to protect Americans from the dangers of terrorism.

While this act made legislative changes that increased surveillance and the investigative powers of law enforcement agencies to protect America from further terrorist acts, the passing of the USA Patriot Act has reduced the privacy rights of Americans and also does not provide for a system of checks and balances that safeguard civil liberties. Terrorism is a serious matter that should not be handled lightly, but the act has gone over the top in trying to stop terrorism. The USA Patriot Act, enacted for protecting America from further attacks, not only does little if anything to protect Americans, but rather undermines their civil rights. The Patriot Act targets not only terrorists, but also the American people which it intended to protect.

This paper will primarily speak of the violations of the First and Fourth Amendments and the lack of checks and balances in relation to the USA Patriot Act.

II. Background

After the September 11th terrorist attacks, America was understandably frightened that this could happen again. Less than a week after the attacks the Bush administration introduced legislation that included items which had previously been voted down, sometimes repeatedly, by Congress. (Surveillance Under the USA Patriot Act)

The Senate version of the Patriot Act, which closely resembled the legislation requested by Attorney General John Ashcroft, was sent straight to the floor with no discussion, debate, or hearings. Many Senators complained that they had little chance to read it much less analyze it before having to vote. In the House, hearings were held, and a carefully constructed compromise bill emerged from the Judiciary Committee. But then, with no debate or consultation with rank-and-file members, the House leadership threw out the compromise bill and replaced it with legislation that mirrored the Senate version. Neither discussion nor amendments were permitted, and once again members barely had time to read the thick bill before they were forced to cast an up-or-down vote on it. The Bush Administration implied that members who voted against it would be blamed for any further attacks - a serious threat at a time when the nation was expecting a second attack would come at any moment and when reports of anthrax letters were appearing daily. (Surveillance Under the USA Patriot Act)

The bill was officially signed into law as the USA Patriot Act on October 26, 2001 by President Bush. Congress acted without determining whether the weaknesses in our surveillance had contributed to the attacks or whether the changes they were making would help prevent further attacks. The two amendments that were effected the most by the USA Patriot Act were the First and Fourth Amendments.

The First Amendment reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances" . (United States House of Representatives-Amendments to the Constitution) Section 802 of the USA Patriot Act titled "Definition of Domestic Terrorism" states that acts committed within the United States "dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws" can be considered acts of domestic terrorism if they "appear to be intended" to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion" or "to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." (H.R. 3162) With a definition as broad as "appear to be intended," there is a great deal of opportunity for abuse. This greatly restricts American's First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and protest. The PATRIOT Act's Section 216 threatens free speech by authorizing the use of the Carnivore system, an electronic tracking system that is capable of capturing all forms of internet activity. Because Carnivore provides the FBI with access to the communications of all subscribers of a monitored Internet Service Provider and not just those of the court-designated target, it raises privacy issues for millions of law-abiding American citizens. The PATRIOT Act's Section 411 infringes on our First Amendment rights as well. It broadens the definition of activities that can be considered punishable for citizens and "deportable offenses" for non-citizens. For example, it deems soliciting funds for an organization that the government labels as a "terrorist group" as "engaging in a terrorist activity." The government often defines such organizations without due process, using alleged "secret evidence." (H.R. 3162)

The Fourth Amendment reads "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." (United States House of Representatives-Amendments to the Constitution)The Patriot Act assumes that lack of information caused by laws that restricted government information-gathering was the major reason for the September 11th terrorist attacks. Section 215 of The USA Patriot Act, titled "Access to Certain Business Records for Foreign Intelligence and International Terrorism Investigations" (H.R. 3162) is in direct violation of this amendment by giving law enforcement the ability to obtain without subpoena, search warrant or probable cause, a court order giving them access to any records or 'tangible thing' which includes personal records from libraries, booksellers, doctors, financial and educational institutions. The government only needs to claim that the records may be related to an ongoing investigation related to terrorism or intelligence activities. Section 213 includes Sneak and Peek warrants that allow law enforcement agencies to break into a suspected terrorists' home while they are not there, go through their things, take pictures, and seize property, all with no warning or notification after the fact. Section 411



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