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USA Patriot Act

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This research paper deals with information regarding Patriot Act. This research paper will be divided in two sections. First section includes detailed information about the act along with Legislative Changes set By the Patriot Act and all the amendments in question. Second part describes ACLU's Position on this act. The USA Patriot Act was passed by Congress as a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This act provides special authorities to federal officials. Similar law is also in question in India, where armed forces are provided with similar authorities in terrorism affected states like Kashmir, Nagaland and Tripura.

With the help of this law federal officials can track and intercept communications, for national security purpose and intelligence gathering for law enforcement. Secretary of the treasury is empowered with regulatory authorities to act against the corruption associated with US financial institutions, especially in foreign money lending processes. It is precisely active in border regions. This law redefined concepts of crime, punishment and procedural techniques for use against domestic and international terrorists. Patriot act significantly reduced restrictions on right of federal agencies to search telephone records, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other essential records. This act was passed by huge majority in both the houses of congress. The House vote was 356-to-66, and the Senate vote was 98-to-1. In shameless display of force, Republican House leadership conveniently ignored the anti terrorism bill which was passed by House Judiciary Committee. That bill addressed loads of civil concerns and favored human rights. Patriot act was passed without any healthy discussion or debate to add to it there wasn’t any conference or committee report. This bill was passed in October 26 under leadership of President George W. Bush.

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Though everybody is concerned about security and most of the amendments are essential, over all look of the law remains somewhat radical. Our political freedom will be compromised, in the name of national security. This sounds contrasting with the democratic values which define any nation, it never works in a democratic set up where one section of the institution is provided with unlimited powers and hardly any accountability for that. This act provides boost to surveillance ability and intelligence gathering. Executives are provided with loads of new weapons in their armory which provides edge to prosecution, including new crimes, enhanced penalties, and longer statutes of limitations. This law provides commanding authorities to Immigration and Naturalization Service department; they can detain immigrants without any permission and in some cases for indefinite times till everything gets cleared. This act balloons power of executives and there is no accountability or responsibility expected in return. 

It will be interesting to see how these executives handle their responsibilities. There are many cases of human right violations reported especially by certain section of community. People were detained by suspecting them by their name; this is not good for any democracy where people are held responsible by grudge and prejudice. Instead of reinforcing law and order situation, implementers of this law are charged with gross negligence of the rule of law and human rights violation. Department of justice has also accepted that out of 1100 cases of immigrant detention almost none was found with substantial evidence. Many of them were held for long time without any concrete reason or evidence.

Certain sections of this act always remained in question and protested by large sections of the civil society. Ignoring increasing criticism Attorney General John Ashcroft stamped on authorities of these officials by providing them with right to detain immigrants without any charge for 48 hours in the name of additional reasonable period of time. This act also enables them to term minor immigration violations as emergency or other extraordinary circumstances. Most disappointing fact here is there is no assurance from Attorney General that these powers won’t be abused. Immigrants complained that even 6 to 7 years old kids were detained for questioning for couple of hours. 

US officials and authorities was in no mood to give respite to immigrants and this fact was underlined by Assistant Attorney General Daniel J. Bryant, of DOJ's Office of Legislative Affairs, he blatantly supported cancellation of the 4th amendment which requires warrant for detaining immigrants. According to Bryant intelligence operations shouldn’t only be restricted to intelligence gathering, intelligence should be good enough to counter efforts of intelligence agencies of other nations to protect American citizens from terrorist attacks. And all the necessary amendments should be made to achieve this goal.

Due to these amendments and biased attitude of officials immigrants were clubbed with terrorists. This act in its current states might cause loads of human right violation as there is no responsibility is imposed on implementers.

Effect of the patriot act on civil rights

Some very basic rights of citizens are compromised due to this act. United States is always known for freedom of its citizens. This act is quite contrasting to the values for which this nation is known all over the world. This act compromises on freedom of speech and political freedom of citizens. Some times it sounds ridicules even freedom of speech is also going to be incorporated under domestic terrorism. Thus from hereon officials will listen only those things which they want to listen. Privacy of the citizens was already reduced after 9/11 but to add to it, this dodge to the Fourth Amendment is going to make situation even more complicated by granting the government enhanced surveillance powers.  

Apprehensions related to patriot act

People who are in the process of getting citizenship of United States will suffer a lot because of this act. With the help of these acts they can be placed in mandatory detention, to add to it they also can be thrown out of the country. Loads of politicians who work for immigrants issues or connected with international politics are going to face the wrath because of this act.

After Army special power act, similar act was introduced in India after Indian parliament was attacked. This act was known as POTA, though this act showed some positive results initially, after some time cases of human right violation came in the limelight. There were enough evidences found of this act being used for revenge and political vendetta. Scholars and politicians are worried for the same thing in United States, according to them this act will provide unnecessary powers which will be misused for investigation and surveillance of political activists and other organizations who do not follow their ideology and oppose them. Unfortunately this act may increase criminalization of politics by giving one side indefinite power, due to this balance of the political system might get disrupted. It will be pretty difficult to even demonstrate against government policy peacefully. Officials can use this act to their favor; even small clashes with police will be termed as acts dangerous to human life which is a violation of the criminal laws. To add to it there is a fear that protestors might be branded as domestic terrorists. Activists also worried about unwanted government attention that all organizations are going to face in the name of surveillance, due to their association with them. It should be carefully monitored that, what measures and which methods government uses to implement this act. It will be interesting to see, if organizations are selectively targeted in the name of surveillance. Privacy of the citizens will be compromised drastically due to this act as officials are provided with authorities to conduct roving wiretaps all over the country, track internet usage and emails of anyone who is suspect according to them, monitor financial transactions, obtain sensitive personal information, and carry out sneak pick operations. Federal officials and law enforcement agencies can dodge Fourth Amendment by which they have to back their operations with appropriate reasons. In simple words for law enforcement agencies, there is no need to take responsibility of their actions. Central Intelligence Agency can conduct domestic spying by sharing information between criminal and intelligence operations.

Though congress passed this act with overwhelming majority, they have failed to assure that this act is not going to be misused. Nobody is ready to trust the government on this issue either.

According to liberal politicians there will be permanent damage to right of privacy of the citizens once the Fourth Amendment is dodged.

Controversial sections of the Patriot Act

Section 203, government agencies can share information with each other even if they are working on a criminal case. In simple words FBI, CIA, and INS along with few other federal agencies can disclose information related to criminal and foreign intelligence, without judicial supervision

Section 206

Grants permission to random wiretaps: this section provides official with additional authority to tap every single phone or computer that suspect might use. This section also expands FISA permit surveillance which involves suspect without any specification.

Section 213

Grants permission to barge in anyone’s premises for criminal search: this section provides certain power to federal officials to enter in anyone’s premises without any permission or prior notice for any search operation.  

Section 214

Anyone who is in contact with the suspect also comes under the scanner: this section empowers authorities to take a hard look at all the numbers or email addresses which were approached by the suspect or vise versa, as long as they are able to establish its relation with terrorism.

Section 215

Third party holding personal details of the suspect can also be searched: due to this section they can search your, library, travel, video rental, phone, medical, church, synagogue, and mosque records which might be owned by third party, everything can be searched without your permission or your knowledge if officials can establish its connection with terrorism.

Section 216

Power to trap-and-trace applies to Internet surveillance: dialing, routing, and signaling come under heavy scanner of Internet surveillance in other words changing the language to include Internet monitoring. This is not only limited to terrorism if officials can link this information with relevance to an ongoing criminal investigation, that is also welcomed.

Section 218

Foreign intelligence information: this section provides authority to US federal officials not only to gather and intercept foreign intelligence information but also to counter efforts of intelligence agencies of other nations to protect American citizens from terrorist attacks, or to get adequate information about possible activities of terrorists.

Section 220

Service of search warrants for electronic evidence all over the country: This section provides much demanded freedom for US officials to act in one direction. According to officials this section will be helpful not only to gather and share intelligence information, but also act on it with unity.

Section 202

Computer frauds also come in the range of the act: this section grants the permission to US federal officials to intercept wire, oral, and electronic communications relating to computer fraud or Internet and computer abuse.  

Section 411

Even unknown contact with terrorism is a crime: according to this section of the patriot act if any immigrant even unknowingly associated with terrorist or terrorism can be deported with immediate effect.

Section 412

Detaining emigrants without any permission: this section provides authority to US officials to detain any emigrant without any permission or even without presenting him in court.

ACLU’s position on patriot act and controversial sections

The American Civil Liberties Union just recently passed a broad report on how this act has been largely abused and human rights are compromised.

Congress didn’t even take enough time to have healthy discussion and law was passed in haste within 45 days after the dreadful incidence of 11th September. Within 8 years of the implementation, gross misconduct has been seen on part of the government. According to Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office this act has proved dreadful for rights of American citizens. Fredrickson further states that this act has passed in rather haste, lawmakers have increased government powers to alarming levels. There was no explanation given about how all these powerful amendments are going to be implemented. This fact has been underlined by the report submitted by Michael German and legislative counsel Michelle Richardson. According their report, it has yet to be seen how successful this act has been. But one thing is pretty clear that, due to this act government sponsored surveillance will expand its wings. This act will automatically reduce importance of Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA) to add to it there was a recent renovation by the Attorney General Guidelines by which physical surveillance is granted without suspension. ACLU is vocally supporting reforms in the patriot act; they are working hard within the congress to achieve this purpose. It was because of ACLU’s hard work and lawsuit, gag order containing Patriot Act’s National Security Letter (NSL) provision was refused. Fredrickson appealed that reauthorization of patriot act should be looked as an opportunity to reconsider this act all over again along with other surveillance acts of the nation. 

ACLU goes ahead to term this act as undemocratic. Many activists have claimed that they have been treated with biased attitude in fact they have been singled out because of their ideology and political views. ACLU’s national spokeswoman Emily Whitfield blatantly stated that Bush administration has misled American citizens by asking them to choose between freedom and safety because citizens of this country can be safe and free at the same time.

Why ACLU is opposing certain sections of the Patriot Act?

ACLU is vocally opposing certain sections of the patriot act and they have some valid reasons for it. Controversial sections of this act and reasons for opposition are mentioned below.

Section 213

This section allows authorities to carry out sneak and peek searches, in simple words  provides certain power to federal officials to enter in anyone’s premises without any permission or prior notice for any search operation. According to ACLU it is against basic principal of right to privacy. It is hard to understand how someone can search any sensitive information of yours without your permission. Section 213 authorizes delayed notice of execution of search operations showing reasons or causes of the operation. They have their own justification for it. They argue that, “reasonable cause to believe that providing immediate notification may have an adverse result” nobody except the officials are ready to buy this argument. Notice can be delayed for reasonable period and it is pretty obvious that who will be benefited the most from this reasonable period. This period may be much longer than seven days. In fact in some cases this period has been stretched up to 90 days.

Sections 213 of the patriot act basically works on first knock and then announce principle. Officials can use this delayed notice concept to their advantage as the person in concern automatically gets prevented from pointing out all the inadequacies in the warrant to the officer executing it and from finding out whether the entire operation was legal and carried out as per the guidelines of the warrant.

Section 215

According to FBI there is no need of person being involved in any illegal activities in order to seize information from him. This section also revises restrictions on governmental seizure of information, to add to it there is no restriction on the means that government agent uses for gathering palpable things. They have the right to go through anyone’s educational records, medical records, financial information, and even books purchases to drag under the scanner without any visible proof. There is no responsibility on the government to prove that the suspect is foreign agent. This is another example of power without accountability. This is quite contrasting to right of privacy of the citizens which is proudly implemented since 1890.In the name of clandestine intelligence activities courts are also lenient on the officials. This section conveniently ignores restrictions proposed by the earlier Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA). In FISA government had some accountability for there actions, they have to convince the court in their application that the suspect has some connections with foreign intelligence or the person himself is foreign agent. But under current form of this act FBI can obtain any information simply by saying that it is required for investigation to protect citizens from international terrorism. It is not necessary that person in question should be a foreign agent; FBI can obtain all the information without even establishing that connection, this section drags United States citizens and lawful permanent residents under unwanted surveillance.  

Section 216

This section gives permission to officials to track devices for telephone and Internet dialing, routing signaling and addressing information which is somewhat related to investigation against crime. If amendments in this section are read carefully, one can find that there is notable change from terror to crime. This section is not limited to terrorist investigation only, criminal investigation also come in the range of this section. Thus this act is much wider and extensive than just terrorist issues. This has been seen in numerous occasions during implementation of this act where focus of the investigation has shifted from terrorist to criminal activities or in some cases from terrorist to intelligence activities. Focus of the investigation gets shifted from its main cause and this happens little too often during implementation of this act. Government agencies can selectively target anybody using this act because they just have state that these actions are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.

This section under patriot act does not specify any restriction in case of email messages and Internet usage tracking neither it draws any line between complex issues such as content and dialing, routing, addressing and signaling information. This is not similar to telephone communication where there is not any risk of revealing content, but in case of email tracking there is high risk of both address and content information getting raveled. There is no clarification given in case of WebPages visited also comes under the concept of dialing, routing, addressing and signaling information. According to this act it’s up to the government to decide what comes under the definition of relevant content.

Government officials can use high-tech and very powerful equipments such as Carnivore or DCS1000 which are capable of tracking Internet telephone communications along with all forms of Internet activity that includes web page activity and email messages. Once the user gets installed or registered on Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) database, DCS1000 can go through all the communications and internet activities of the target. Alarming part of this process is, because of methods all the other users also come under scanner along with suspect, i.e. officials can track down information of any user. In this way no information is safe and secured in this nation, everything is monitored and this is quite an uncomfortable feeling. ACLU is particularly worried about misuse of such powerful weapons. It is quite possible that authorities in power can use these high tech powerful equipments against their ideological and political rivals.

Section 218

This section provides authority to US federal officials to gather and intercept foreign intelligence information. This section brings drastic changes in legal tradition. Only thing which is clear about this act is government wants some information from certain person and they will obtain that by any possible way. Here law is heavily loaded in favor of person who is deliberately and forcefully intruding in privacy of another person by information tracking or wire tapping. All this can be done in the name of an ongoing intelligence investigation. This section of the patriot law allows government to investigate any criminal case along with gathering of foreign intelligence information. They can achieve this by mentioning "a significant purpose". Thus main purpose behind this act gets conveniently dodged. This act indirectly supports government sponsored spying on political rivals. Interesting fact here is similar demand by former president Richard Nixon was rejected by the Supreme Court. Court found this demand was against fourth and first amendment or right of privacy. Congress brought FISA 1978 to put forward government’s position. They mentioned that Fourth Amendment safeguards are not as decisive in foreign intelligence investigations as it is not related with normal criminal investigation. After 32 years of this act government hasn’t yet ruled in favor of FISA thus validity of today’s section 218 of the Patriot act comes seriously in question.

Government officials are adamant on their position, according to them use of deadly force by the government can be justified in self defense, by the same norm  warrant less searches can be justified for national security.

Section 203

This section of the patriot act allows government agencies to share information with each other even if they are working on a criminal case. In simple words FBI, CIA, and INS along with few other federal agencies can disclose information related to criminal and foreign intelligence, without judicial supervision. In this way all the essential matters can be disclosed even before they appear in front of the grand jury, this narrows down the possibility of subpoena records and witnesses by the grand jury.

203(b) also allows officials to disclose Internet conversations and recordings of telephonic conversations. And by section 203(d) even sensitive foreign intelligence information can be disclosed.

According to ACLU though sharing some information is appropriate as the kind of terrorist threats world faces these days, it is quite dangerous for the ideological and political freedom of the citizens, as all the sensitive information is shared all across federal agencies without any judicial supervision. People can still remember how CIA selectively targeted innocent citizens who were having anti Vietnam War opinions.  

Section 411

Immigrant even unknowingly associated with terrorist or terrorism can be deported with immediate effect. In simple words this section allows detention and deportation of any immigrant who even verbally supports a terrorist ideology or organization. The most starling fact here is no fixed definition of a terrorist organization is mentioned here. They have loosely motioned characteristics of terrorist organizations where two or more persons who are involved in terrorist activities together or individually. Thus any immigrant even unknowingly becomes member of any organization, or provides funds to that organization which is doing good work according to his knowledge, but turns as a terrorist organization with hidden agenda. Then he has to face loads of trouble due to this law, as he faces burden of proving his innocence which sometimes becomes next to impossible. Immigrants can be deported for being member of or for providing funds to such organizations which were not declared as terrorist organizations then and declared as a terrorist outfit afterwards.

Section 412

This section allows government officials to detain any immigrant without providing evidence against him. Attorney general just has to state that he has reasonable grounds to detain that immigrant or particular immigrant appeared as a thereat. This section provides authority to US officials to detain any emigrant without any permission or even without presenting him in court.

It is beyond anybodies imagination how anyone can be arrested on the grounds or reasons that even he doesn’t know. Immigrant can’t even seek clarification from the authorities, worst thing is even mentally or physically challenged people also can’t get respite from this act. Officials can delay release of any immigrant in the name of release is "unlikely in the reasonably foreseeable future" or “release of the immigrant might jeopardize security of the nation or any community”. According to this law it doesn’t matter whether the presence of the immigrant is lawful, or unlawful, temporary, or permanent. This section of the Patriot act is applicable to all the citizens of the nation. Detention of the immigrant can be increased indefinitely only in the name of ‘reasonable grounds’ without any concrete evidence.


Emotional reactions were expected after heart wrenching incident of 9/11. Some knee jerk reactions can also be understood. But times have come to re look or rethink all our policies without any prejudices. Reauthorization of the Patriot Act is one such opportunity to look at world without biased mind. We have to make sure that no innocent person bares the burden of our wounds of 9/11. After all two wrongs never make one right.

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