The USA PATRIOT Act (Patriot Act) was established after September 11, 2001 (9/11) when terrorists attacked the United States. The Patriot Act has raised many concerns about whether it infringes on the civil liberties of the people of this nation. Looking back in history, our past presidents developed laws that were the stepping stone for the ideas that created the Patriot Act. The government’s job is to protect the people, but it has a larger job which is to protect the nation. This has raised many issues involving the Patriot Act and whether or not it is more detrimental to us than it is helpful. In relation to the Patriot Act and how it deprives those accused under it of Constitutional rights, the American people should be concerned with how much power our government has when developing laws governing our civil liberties.
On September 11, 2001 the United States (US) experienced the unthinkable when terrorists attacked the country on its own soil. This was a serious eye opener or should I say reality check for the US. The US has some of the most sophisticated counter intelligence in the world but was unable to prevent such a tragedy. Why didn’t they see it coming? A lot of thing would be different today if that question could half been answered prior to 9/11.
On September 19, 2001 after the terrorist attack on the United States, Attorney General Ashcroft presented Congress with a list of new and amended statutes. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and others introduced their own versions of the bill (S. 1510 & .R.2975). H.R. 2975 was introduced on October 2, 2001, and it passed the House on October 12, 2001. S. 1510 was introduced on October 4, 2001, and the Senate passed the bill on October 11, 2001. The final bill, H.R. 3162, was introduced in the House on October 23, 2001, and it passed the next day. The bill passed the Senate on October 25, 2001, and was signed by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001 Lemieux, M. (n.d.). History of the USA Patriot Act. Retrieved April 9, 2011, from //www.constitutiondenied.com/Media/History-Patriot-Act.pdf.
This act was compiled from two documents, the Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (PATRIOT) from the House of Representatives (House) and the Uniting and Strengthening American (USA) Act from the Senate, was merged together creating the Patriot Act. According to Lemieux, previous developed laws created by previous presidents to resolve conflicts were similar to the Patriot Act they just had different names Lemieux, M. (n.d.). History of the USA Patriot Act. Retrieved April 9, 2011, from //www.constitutiondenied.com/Media/History-Patriot-Act.pdf. The Aliens and Sedition Act of 1798 was developed during the war with France because the US was afraid for the country and the people and wanted to make sure the enemy did not sleep amongst us. With this power the president was able to have anyone that was believed to be a threat to the government would be arrested and deported. During the Civil War the president suspended Habeas Corpus for the safety benefits of the nation, giving the government the power to imprison someone without sufficient evidence. During World War II, the President ordered over 10,000 American citizens that had not shown any disloyalty to the United States into confinement camps because they were of Japanese descent Lemieux, M. (n.d.). History of the USA Patriot Act. Retrieved April 9, 2011, from //www.constitutiondenied.com/Media/History-Patriot-Act.pdf. These are the stepping stone behind the development of the Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act came into existence as a response to the tragic events of 9/11. The bill that would come to be known as the Patriot Act was introduced to Congress just days after 9/11. It was revised because of concerns from many congressmen that the bill allowed for too broad of a scope of power to federal authorities. Eventually after the bill was revised and reintroduced, Congress passed it with little opposition on October 26, 2001. Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), would up being the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act. Even though the Patriot Act did not come into existence until after 9/11, it does have roots in earlier legislation. On April 25, 1996, President Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act into law. The bill for this law was introduced after the Oklahoma City Bombing. The major provision of the act made it illegal to provide “material support” to any organization banned by the State Department. The bill was greatly criticized by Republicans for granting too much power to authorities. The bill had to undergo major modifications before it was passed in 1996. The bill that ended up becoming law was said to be a “watered down version” of the original that President Clinton wanted passed. Strangely enough, it was this act that was broadened and revamped to create the Patriot Act (Creative Commons, n.d.).
Since becoming law, the Patriot Act has been highly criticized for being extremely broad and too open for interpretation. In 2004, a judge ruled that parts of the Patriot Act were unconstitutional because they were too vague and in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments. Another criticism of the Patriot Act is that it does not guarantee enough oversight to make sure that those that are given power by the act do not misuse it. On March 9, 2006 President Bush signed the Patriot Act Reauthorization, but attached a signing statement in which he said that he would ignore specific mandates written in the bill that would give more judicial and Congressional oversight to agencies authorized use of the act. In late March, letters were written to Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General at the time, requesting to have the administration rescind the signing statement since they do not have force of law. In those letters, they cited Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution which states that ‘Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it.’ Alberto Gonzales and President Bush both ignored the letters and never responded. Their argument was that the president could not change legislation that had been passed by Congress and say that he would ignore part of it that he did not agree with. On December 10, 2007, an appeals court upheld the 2004 ruling that parts of the Patriot Act were unconstitutional. In the ruling, the court stated that a statute must allow for a person of average intelligence to be able to read and understand the law. They found that certain parts of the act were too vague. They concluded that if the law was worded in a way that the average person could not understand, then the average person would not know if they were committing a crime (Creative Commons, n.d.).
While many believe that our terrorist threat from other countries is great, there is also the fear of terrorist attacks on the US by its own citizens. The Oklahoma City Bombing is a tragic example. In some cases, there is a need for the government to suspect an American citizen and do surveillance to protect the country from another such tragedy. The government has been doing espionage work for longer than most people think. It is not a new practice, but with the technology we have today, it is easier for authorities to collect intelligence. Even though they have this technology at their disposal that does not mean that the Constitution can be ignored in the name of protecting the US.
One example of the Patriot Act being used in such a way is in the case of Jose Padilla. He was a Puerto Rican born citizen who later in his life converted to Islam. He traveled throughout the Middle East and allegedly plotted with al Qaeda terrorists to detonate a “dirty bomb” in a US city. As soon as he stepped off a plane in the United States he was detained. The Bush Administration claimed that he could be detained even though he was an American citizen because he had been deemed an “enemy combatant” by the president. He was then held in a military brig for three and a half years and was allegedly subjected to torture at the hands of US officials trying to elicit information from him. At that time, he was not charged with any crimes even though it was said there was overwhelming evidence against him. He was also cut off from all communication with his family and attorney (Martinez, 2007).
A case was brought on his behalf because he was jailed for so long with no charges filed against him and other issues that were in violation of his Constitutional rights. The evening before his case was to be heard by the Supreme Court charges were finally filed against him. It is believed that this was only done so that the Supreme Court would not hear the case because the Bush Administration would have been found guilty of wrongdoing. Ironically, no charges were filed that had to do with the allegations of his supposed involvement to detonate a “dirty bomb.” He was charged with lesser and less specific crimes though Attorney General Ashcroft had stated when he was detained that the evidence against Padilla was overwhelming. Before he was set to stand trial, Padilla’s attorney tried to argue that because of the torture he was subjected to and the length of time he was detained he was not mentally competent to stand trial. A judge ruled that he was competent and he was eventually found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison (Martinez, 2007).
On Monday April 4th, 2011 the House of Representatives reviewed the Patriot Act and voted to extend it to the 8th of December, giving the power to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and many other federal agencies to still use roving wiretaps among other powers that overstep our constitutional rights. February 28th, 2011 was thought to be the last day of the Patriot Act since no new legislation had been passed. With this extension, America waits for hearings to be held by the Judiciary Committee. When it came down to voting for the extension many Republicans voted for it and Democrats argued against the extension. However, what was a surprise to many was the fact that sixty-five Democrats voted for the extension of the Patriot Act. One in particular, Democratic Representative C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger from Maryland, the highest ranking democrat on the Intelligence Committee, would like to see this extension all the way through to 2013. Many of the 27 Republicans who voted against the extension, such as Dana Rohrabacher, believe the American people will face a legitimate threat of out-of-control prosecutions as well as the possibility of out-of-control spy networks taking effect.
Groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are fighting for reform of the Patriot Act. The ACLU believes that law enforcement agencies will take advantage of the bill and use of this power to trouble innocent members of the Muslim-American communities. On March 30th, 2011, the ACLU appeared before the House subcommittee on the need for reform of the Patriot Act, arguing that the Government monitoring of communications with no proof is a violation of the American peoples’ basic Amendment rights. Senator Patrick Leahy felt that he would not support the extension because it did nothing to uphold the government’s accountability. EPIC used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIP) to get reports on intelligence law violations from the Intelligence Oversight Board. EPIC has spoken on more than one occasion to the Senate Judiciary Committee to require the Attorney General to report to Congress any unlawful investigations under the Patriot Act, yet this battle still continues today.
The lives of both US citizens and immigrant are affected by the power of the Patriot Act. For example, foreigners who seek education through grants, non-citizens looking to gain permanent residency, citizenship, visas and work permits in the United States are being scrutinized under the new requirement system of the Patriot Act. One very high ranking official in the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made it clear if there are any doubts regarding an applicant’s eligibility then they will receive disapproval. More stringent government standards and thorough background checks are just another obstacle created by the Patriot Act. These new rules under the Patriot Act also go against most of the checks and balances from the Bill of Rights that was put into place to protect citizens’ privacy. At that time, misuse of surveillance powers by law enforcement agencies were uncovered, including the 1974 revelation that the FBI and foreign intelligence agencies had spied on over 10,000 U.S. citizens, including Martin Luther King Jr. Today, citizens utilizing the internet in the privacy of their home feel a discomfort in what they do because their actions are subject to review if the government suspects they are engaging in anything terrorist related. For Internet users, it opens the door for widespread surveillance of web surfing, e-mails and peer-to-peer systems. Also put in the middle of the arguments are companies and public libraries that have to turn over any potentially incriminating documents accessed through their systems, at the request of federal law enforcement agencies, without giving any notification to their customers.
The Patriot Act has a greater purpose than can be imagined. I believe that certain aspects of the Patriot Act are feasible, but only with intensive oversight not only from Congress, but also from the Supreme Court. Congress can play a role by ensuring that the laws they pass do not go against the protections promised to Americans in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. The Supreme Court could continue to review cases to ensure that the Constitution is upheld even when it comes to cases that deal with suspected terrorists that are American citizens. Our laws have made this country what it is today but it is feared that money maybe the downfall of our nation. The freedom of life, liberty and property has turned into greed. Terrorist acts against the US terrify many Americans, but in many cases, money and power scares them more. The people vote to have government representation but the people need to be more involved with the decision making process. If you elect someone to office and they do not do the job correctly, it is up to us as Americans to make sure that those people do not remain in office. That can only be done if people get more involved in the political process and not just be satisfied with what goes on.
The expression “land of the free” is used too generously. The way it is now, the Patriot Act goes against everything that this country stands for and deprives us all of our civil liberties. Some argue that it is necessary to maintain order, but you cannot give limitless power to a few and expect things to turn out well. If the Patriot Act is to be kept as law, the people that we elect to the House of Representatives (House) and Senate need to hold the people who use it accountable who overstep or abuse the power given to them. Also, the president should not be the deciding factor in deeming an individual a “threat” or “enemy combatant” when giving a person such a title strips them of basic human rights. If it is unacceptable for soldiers in war to commit crimes against the people of the nation they are occupying, it should be unacceptable for authorities to use tactics that are considered torture when trying to elicit information from an individual, whether that person be an American citizen or not.
The History of the Patriot Act actually dates back to the eighteenth century under different laws put into place during war time to protect the US. The protection of our nation is the highest and the most important responsibility of our government. The laws created are supposed to be in the best interest of the citizens. After all, the citizens give the government the power to look after their welfare and to protect them. People with this level of power sometimes concentrate on the whole without rational and the individual has to pay the cost. There should be a limit on the power of the government, but if the nation’s way of life, liberty and pursuit of property are in jeopardy we need to consider the rational the government uses when governing this nation. We cannot as a nation just sit back and accept what is being done. In order to elicit change, we have to stand up and do something about it.