The Patriot Act in the U.S.
2001 was a rough year for the U.S. with the attacks on September 11th and then anthrax later in the month. However, Congress and President George W. Bush acted swiftly to pass a law on October 26, 2001, to enhance the security of our country to keep Americans safe.
What is the Patriot Act?
The Patriot Act stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” What this acronym refers to is the ability of our government to monitor U.S. citizens and use surveillance in ways never before legal. All law-enforcement and intelligence agencies are now equipped with enhanced directives and tools to electronically monitor everyone, looking for any information on suspected terrorists.
When and Why Was the Patriot Act Passed?
The Patriot Act was enacted to strengthen our nation’s security protocols directly after 9/11. The attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, took America by surprise. No one was prepared for the devastation and fear that rocked out nation. After the dust settled, government officials discovered clues that if caught early could have prevented the attacks. The Patriot Act was designed to give law enforcement the ability to tap into those early warning signs to avoid anything of this magnitude from happening again.
The 9/11 attacks also highlighted vulnerabilities in our security system for airports and other modes of transport. Again, if we had better security in place, back in 2001 the twin towers in New York may still be standing.
The law passed quickly with a majority vote of 357 to 66. Most of the non-supporters were Democratic with all but three Republicans supporting the bill.
What Does the Patriot Act Follow?
The Patriot Act does not just affect electronic surveillance and privacy; it also touches on immigration laws and foreign military policy. The laws governing who can enter this country and everything pertaining to their immigration is now under scrutiny. Further tightening the immigration noose, the government tripled border control resources to keep undocumented immigrants out. The Patriot Act also boosted the power of the Secretary of Treasurer to help thwart money-laundering schemes.
The Patriot Act also allows the federal government to monitor bank records, credit cards, emails, browser history and pretty much anything else that is available and connected to the Internet.
One of the most controversial sections within the Patriot Act are the changes made to the Wiretap Act which now allows the government to monitor any electronic device including phones, landlines, computers and Wi-Fi cameras as a method of gathering information. Intelligence agencies no longer have to get a court order for phone records, they can simply contact any of the phone carriers to requests them without obstruction. Through the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) pretty much any government agency can gain access to your business or personal records without any hassle from court records or a court order.
Patriot Act and the 4th Amendment
As part of our Constitution, the 4th Amendment protects American citizens against search and seizure. It also prohibits the government from wiretaps, surveillance and any other type of intrusion without a search warrant. The Patriot Act pretty much cancels out the 4th Amendment, and now every U.S. citizen is subject to searches, monitoring, and investigation without any cause, and it’s all legal.
The Importance of the Patriot Act
Many Americans take issue with this intrusion into their privacy, since the notorious Ed Snowden exposed how much information was being collected on every U.S. citizen.
As part of the documents he leaked to the press, one of the big bombshells was a stipulation allowing the government to request user records from big data companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and others and they legally have to comply. The end user never even knows the government obtains their information.
Another big piece of the puzzle is the software the government uses to track everything U.S. citizens do online. There is no privacy online anymore. Even more disconcerting is the elite hacking team working within the government that prioritizes breaking encryption meant to keep private networks private and personal information safe.
Many people still believe that their text messages and home Wi-Fi cameras are secure, but according to the Snowden leaks, the government accesses all of them, all the time around the globe.
There is a lot of talk about whether or not all this information is actually preventing terrorism in America. With that much information to sift through, it is hard to believe that anyone could pull from it usable, legitimate threats that result in arrests. Until we have something better, the Patriot Act is the only thing standing between us and terrorists who want to hurt and destroy American freedom.