Pros and Cons of the Patriot Act


Congress approved the USA PATRIOT Act (the Act) in response to the terrorists’ attacks of September 11, 2001. The Act grants federal officials greater power and right to track and interrupt communications, both for law enforcement and foreign intelligence gathering purposes. It vests the Secretary of the Treasury with regulatory powers to combat corruption of U.S. financial institutions for foreign money laundering purposes. It seeks to further close our borders to foreign terrorists and to detain and remove those within our borders. It creates new crimes, new penalties, and new procedural efficiencies for use against domestic and international terrorists. Although it is not without safeguards, critics contend some of its provisions go too far. Although it grants many of the enhancements sought by the Department of Justice, others are concerned that it does not go far enough (Doyle, 2002).



The U.S. government always wanted to restrict the liberty of its citizens in era of war from World War I to the present. These restrictions often contain various laws which go against the civil or constitutional rights of its citizens. The Government passes theses laws so secretly that even the citizens are unaware that the very people they have elected for protecting their liberty and legitimate rights, have taken there rights away. After the September 11 attacks the history was repeated and again a law  named “US Patriot Act” commonly known as “Patriot Act” was passed ,which again infringe the civil rights of the citizens. 

The US Patriot Act was not a new act; in fact it already had its roots into the legislation. Actually there were similar laws dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.These laws include: 

  • Smith Act of 1940.
  • Internal Security Act of 1950.

Smith Act of 1940, which is considered a key predecessor to the Patriot Act (Philips, 2005). U.S. Congressman Howard W. Smith of Virginia (D) authored the act that mandated all foreign-born persons must register with the government—a precursor to the hysteria of McCarthyism. Additionally, if anyone violates the Smith Act, that person’s home and personal possessions were subjected to searches and seized by government officials. The significant aspect of Smith Act was that, unlike the Patriot Act it protects and maintains the integrity of civil rights because before the search about the personal possessions of a person a search warrant would need to be obtained (THUR, 2009). 

The Internal Security Act of 1950 proved to be more complex for librarians, infact it created a gap between the librarians and its clients. For librarians this act bans the intentional circulation of knowledge that would harm the US or lend a hand to any other nation for such an act. And incase of violation the penalty of 10 years in prison and a monetary penalty up to $10,000 was set.1950s was the era of McCarthyism; this was the period of assaulting the educational and intellectual liberties of the populace. That was the time when Govenmnmet interference was uncontrolled, people were blacklisted and privacy was neglected. U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, Chairperson of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), actually started a campaign in order to get rid of U.S of “un-American” and “Communist” people and materials. (THUR, 2009). 

These laws basically set the foundation for what would be considered by many scholars, librarians, and professors the single greatest infringement upon the constitutional rights and intellectual freedom of millions of Americans: The USA PATRIOT Act (Braman, 2006; Foerstel, 2004; Napolitano, 2006; and Van Bergen, 2005). 

Events which leads to the formulation of Patriot Act: 

After the terrorists attack on September 11, 2001 the FBI and then Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed that the Government wanted to extend their authorities in order find to fight terrorists. Soon after 9/11 attacks FBI insisted on immediate, unrestricted access to e-mail, library records, banking data, and all forms of personal communication and information (THUR, 2009). 

Prominent figures involved in the formulation of the Act: 

Mr. Ashcroft basically made a list, which he then presented to congress and said openly that if congress failed to approve these measures, then congress itself would be responsible if there were additional terrorists’ attacks. The list prepared by Mr. Ashcroft held restrictive and invasive police powers that included roving wiretaps, monitoring computer use, and detaining suspects Foerstel (2004, p. 47). 

On 19 September, 2001 Attorney Ashcroft presented his list to the congress and demanded for its approval by 21 September. Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and James Sensenbrenner, Chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, jointly with many of their colleagues write their own versions of the bill, which became S.1510 and H.R. 2975. The H.R. 2975 was bring in on the 2 October, 2001 and passed by the house on 12 October, 2001.S.1510 was introduced on 4 October, 2001 and passes the Senate on 11 Oct, 2001 by a vote of 96 to 1.The final bill H.R.3162 was bring in the house on 23 October, 2001, passed the House on 24 October, 2001, passed the Senate on 25 October, 2001,and then finally reached to the president (Standler,2008). 

The Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, which was then signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001 (US PATRIOT ACT, n.d).After the law has been signed by the president, it was presented to the House of Representatives and the Senate. In addition, both legislative bodies received the dissimilar versions of the Patriot Act. (Foerstel, 2004; Napolitano, 2006). 

Reasons For The Passing Of The Patriot Act 

The Patriot Act was formed because of the fear of more attacks. For finding and preventing the terrorists from more attacks the Act was being formulated. Because according to the Hirschkorn(2003) 2750 has died out 2752 ,excluding the 10 terrorists .Also when AA77 crashed in the Pentagon another 189 people died (List of victims, n.d). After these two horrifying terrorists attacks another 45 people died in the crash of UA93 in Pennsylvania (Passenger List 9/11 review, n.d). According to the Standler, in this attack the terrorists are intended to crash the airplane into the U.S capitol or The White House. A more accurate measure of the mood after September 11, 2001 is that the New York city Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on September 13 “Provided statistics that began to give some vague dimension to an American atrocity: 4763 people reported missing… and 30,000 body bags available (Berry, 2001). 

After the September 11, 2001 attack, no one in the US Government actually knows that how many other terrorists are still in the USA and waiting to attack. According to Standler, by mid October 2001 a month has passes peacefully without any additional terrorists’ attacks. Then on 15th October, 2001, “a letter containing anthrax was received by Senator Daschle, who was the senate majority leader. Several of the buildings of US Congress remained closed for testing of anthrax spores and decontamination”. On 16 November, 2001, After the Patriot Act was passes, another letter addressed to Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee containing anthrax was found in undelivered mails. Leachy’s letter was postmarked on 9 Oct same day as Daschle’s letter (Press Release, 2001).It was not just that the US was attacked but it was felt that might be the congress would be next target of the terrorists. There was an understandable sense of urgency in Congress to give additional legal tools to law enforcement and foreign intelligence to help them prevent future terrorists’ attacks. Additionally, there is intense pressure on congress from the attorney general Ashcroft to quickly pass the new statues in a matter of days (Standler, 2008). 

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Contents Of Patriot Act 

Title I : Enhancing Domestic Security Against Terrorism 

Title 1 contains six sections. Basically this section pertains to the protection of civil liberties. It authorizes federal money to accomplish much of the act’s provisions and authorizes the Secret Service to create a nationwide electronic crime task force. This section also gives the president the authority to confiscate the property of any foreign person who is believed to have aided in a war or attack on the United States. Such seizures can be submitted secretly to courts as evidence (Grabianowski, n.d).     

Title II: Enhanced Surveillance Procedures 

Granted increased powers of surveillance to various government agencies and bodies. This title has 25 sections, with one of the sections (section 224) containing a sunset clause. 

Title II contains many of the most debatable provisions of the act. Supporters of the Patriot Act claim that these provisions are necessary in combating the War on Terrorism, while its detractors argue that many of the sections of Title II infringe upon constitutionally protected individual and civil rights. 

The sections of Title II amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and its provisions in 18 U.S.C., dealing with “Crimes and Criminal Procedure”. It also amends the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. In general, the Title expands federal agencies’ powers in intercepting, sharing, and using private telecommunications, especially electronic communications, along with a focus on criminal investigations by updating the regulations that govern computer crime investigations. It also sets out procedures and limitations for individuals who feel their rights have been dishonored to seek redress, including against the United States government. However, it also includes a section that deals with trade sanctions against countries whose government supports terrorism, which is not directly related to surveillance issues (USA PATRIOT Act, Title II, n.d). 

Title III:  International Money Laundering Abatement And Anti-Terrorist Financing Act Of 2001 

It has ten titles, each containing numerous sections. This is in fact an act of Congress in its own right as well as being a title of the USA PATRIOT Act, and is intended to ease the prevention, detection and prosecution of international money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The title’s sections primarily amend portions of the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986 and the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970. 

The provisions of Title III are separated into three subtitles. The first deals mainly with strengthening banking rules particularly against money laundering, mainly on the international stage. Communication between law enforcement agencies and financial institutions, as well as among institutions, is expanded by the second subtitle, which also increases record keeping and reporting requirements. The final segment of the title deals with currency smuggling and counterfeiting, including quadrupling the maximum penalty for counterfeiting foreign currency (USA PATRIOT Act, Title III, n.d). 

This section of the Patriot Act is meant at cutting off the financial support of terrorist groups. It has provisions requiring banks to take measures to stop money laundering, allows law-enforcement agencies to collect information from banks and make longer prison terms for money laundering and smuggling (Grabianowski, n.d). 

Title IV—Protecting The Border 

It has twenty one sections. Title IV aims to put a stop to terrorism in the USA through immigration policies. The provisions of the title generally increase the difficulty of entering the country for those known to have, or supposed of having, terrorist intention. 

Title IV amends large parts of the Immigration and Nationality Act, giving more law enforcement and investigative power to the United States Attorney General and to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Criticisms of the title include its lack of mention of judicial review for groups designated as terrorist (USA PATRIOT Act, Title IV, n.d), and its sections that mandate study of potential future legislative enhancements rather than enforcement action (Jenks, 2001). 

Basically overall section has provisions intended to strengthen border security. It authorizes increased funding for border patrols, customs officials and immigration officials. Foreigners with ties to terrorist organizations are banned from entering the United States, and the monitoring of foreign students is expanded by Title IV (Grabianowski, n.d). 

Title VIII—Strengthening The Criminal Laws Against Terrorism 

Is the eighth of ten titles which comprise the USA PATRIOT Act, an anti-terrorism bill passed in the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks? Title VIII contains 17 sections. This portion of the Patriot Act adds several crimes to the list of things considered acts of terrorism, including attacking a mass transit system, using a biological weapon, supporting terrorism and computer hacking. The penalties for terrorist crimes are also increased (Grabianowski, n.d). 

Title X—Miscellaneous 

It contains 16 sections that do not fall under other titles in the act. This is the final section of the Patriot Act contains a number of relatively minor, miscellaneous provisions. It defines “electronic surveillance” broadly and contains a number of catchall provisions. 

Pros Of Patriot Act 

According to Beth Hazen, FBI agent and counsel for the Detroit office. Hazen said the primary value of the PATRIOT Act is in allowing agents to get up to speed with terrorists who are equipped with more advanced communications than in the past, such as the internet.

“People who commit crimes hide evidence of their crimes, and that evidence may be in bank accounts, computers, and private conversations,” she said. “If I’m going to do my job, I have to be able to access private areas, but the greater the intrusion, the greater because I have to show.”

Hazen said FBI agents have to go through many obstacles before surveillance is approved (Downes, n.d).

The provisions of the Patriot Act were carefully designed in response to the events that led up to the September 11 attacks. It was believed that bureaucratic red tape prevented vital surveillance activities and information transmissions that could potentially have thwarted the attacks. The emphasis was on being sure that should another attack be planned, the government would have the power to prevent it from being completed (Fritscher, 2007).

The Patriot Act allows both law enforcement and intelligence to share vital information which could prevent future terrorist strikes from occurring.  (The Patriot Act: Cons And Pros,2008)

This act also tackles the issue of terrorism financing which closes the gap concerning financing through informal money transfer networks rather than traditional financial institutions (The Patriot Act: Cons And Pros,2008).

.The Patriot Act increased the penalties for those who commit terrorists crimes. The Act prohibits the harboring of terrorists, Enhanced a number of conspiracy penalties.

The patriot act allows investigators to use the tools that were already avaliable to investigate organized crime and drug trafficking (Braeuer et al. n.d).

some texts are in favor of  “The Patriot act”, for instance:

According to Ridge(2004) 

(…) the authorities of the Patriot Act exist to protect the very liberties that our published in the Constitution.  By protecting our freedoms, our civil liberties are enhanced, not diminished. 

The Patriot Act prevents economic cost in a way that the cost incurs in finding and fighting against terrorists is low than the cost incurred after any harmful action of terrorists. Because of the horrifying activities of the terrorists the nation will not only faces financial loss but also the loss of the lives of many innocent people.

Cons Of Patriot Act 

One of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act was Title II, which allowed unprecedented monitoring of semi-public records such as library records. Many began to fear that their choice of reading material could lead to an accusation of terrorism (Downes, n.d).   

Critics of the USA Patriot Act say the law has made it too easy for law enforcement to spy on people. They contend that, by easing restrictions on the use of surveillance tools once reserved for foreign-intelligence investigations, the law cuts too deeply into personal liberties and privacy rights (Abramson, 2005). 

The patriot Act violated the civil liberty as it also allows the searching of homes and businesses not only without the consent of the persons being searched but without them having any knowledge of it at all  (The Patriot Act: Cons And Pros,2008).

American Civil Liberties Union’s wrote in“Letter to the Senate Urging Rejection on the Final Version of the USA PATRIOT Act”.”USA PATRIOT Act gives the Attorney General and federal law enforcement unnecessary and permanent new powers to violate civil liberties that go far beyond the stated goal of fighting international terrorism” (Braeuer et al. n.d).

Because of Patriot Act, constitutional freedoms of citizens are in danger.

Patriot Act is a threat against freedom of expression. Like Distress signal at Grinnell, Peace offense in New York and Full exposure in Florida (Braeuer et al. n.d).

According to the congress finding under sec.102.Muslim Americans have become so fearful of harassment that many Muslim women are changing the way they dress to avoid becoming targets. This shows the fear of the Muslims.

Electronic Survilliance 

An electronic surveillance program was implemented by the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, part of the broader President’s Surveillance Program conducted under the overall umbrella of the War on Terrorism. The NSA, a signals intelligence agency, implemented the program to intercept al Qaeda communications overseas where at least one party is not a US person. It was later disclosed that some of the intercepts included communications were “purely domestic” in nature, igniting the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy (Risen & Lichtblau, 2005). 

(A). Patriot act & electronic surveillance 

The e USA Patriot Act, enacted by the US Congress shortly after September 11, 2001, is anti-terrorism legislation that, among other things, expands the intelligence gathering and surveillance powers of law enforcement and national security agencies by amending the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance 

Act (FISA). One of the intended effects of the USA Patriot Act was to tear down the “wall” that previously separated conventional law enforcement from national security intelligence gathering activities. USA Patriot Act provisions have been used in ordinary criminal investigations and have expedited surveillance in a myriad of circumstances, not all of which are terrorism related. 

FISA, originally enacted in 1978, gives US authorities the power to gather intelligence on foreign agents in the US and abroad. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FIS Court) issues secret orders under FISA allowing US authorities to gather information about individuals. Failure to comply with a FISA order, and to keep its existence secret, is an offence in the US. 

Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act amended FISA to allow US authorities to, among other things, obtain records and other “tangible things” to protect against international terrorism and against clandestine intelligence activities. Section 218 of the USA Patriot Act amended FISA so that foreign intelligence gathering need only be “a significant purpose”, rather than the only purpose, of FISA searches or surveillance in the US, leading some critics to suggest it could be used as a backdoor tool for enforcement of ordinary criminal and regulatory laws. 

Section 505 of the USA Patriot Act expanded the circumstances under which the FBI can issue “national security letters” in the US to compel financial institutions, phone companies and Internet service providers secretly to disclose information about their customers. The e FBI is required only to establish that the information it seeks is relevant to an authorized intelligence investigation (Privacy and the USA Patriot Act, 2004). 

(B). Electronic Surveillance as an infringement of the American’s right 

Electronic surveillance prior to 9/11 was used as an investigatory method for collecting information available on the internet. But after the 9/11 electronic surveillance was strengthen and law enforcement and intelligence agencies powers were extended (Watney, n.d). 

Where on one hand Electronic Surveillance helps out law enforcement agencies in fighting against terrorism, on the other hand it violate human rights such as the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression. Although surveillance legislation is imposed from the law enforcement side of government, it does not automatically justify the use of surveillance. Surveillance legislation must be scrutinized as it may infringe the rights of Internet users. It is important that surveillance laws provide for judicial oversight and compliance with prerequisites to prevent governmental abuse of surveillance as an investigatory method; 

When the Patriot Act was formed it was passed through congress without much disparity between two core political parties, the civil liberties organizations called for the reform of the Patriot Act. Although the main focus of Patriot Act was on the broadening US the vision of terrorism and protecting the people from it, but still the bill of rights is being endangered, including the first, fourth and fifth amendments. 

The main aim of the patriot act was to made communication easier between the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The initial amendment the patriot act interfere with intervene the right of freedom of speech, assembly and the press. The Patriot Act infringes this freedom by permitting the use of wire taps. By permitting the use of the wire taps the Patriot Act affects the privacy of the innocent civilians. 

Section 217 is another such provision which infringes the privacy of citizens, by permitting the Government to monitor electronic activity.Section217 and 215, both the provisions infringe on populace liberty of speech as well as private activities, all behaviors which should be protected under the first amendment. 

The Patriot Act also impacted the fourth amendment of Americans right to protection from unwarranted searches and seizures. The allowance of the delayed notice of search warrants permits law enforcement officials to search a home or business and inform the person about this at the later date. This condition of the Patriot Act abuses the Fourth amendment. Because of this violation the Bill of rights and civil liberties is lost. 

Even though the patriot Act effect more than half of the civil rights given to the American citizens in the Bill of Rights, the third major amendment it effects is the fifth, no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without the due process of law. A large amount can go wrong when patriot powers are abused and some of t he most effects can be felt through the dissolution of Americans fifth amendment. 

The patriot act has several sections which have been deemed by the Supreme Court as un constitutional because they interfere the civil rights granted to individuals in the first ten amendments of the constitution (Neubaum, n.d). 

(C). The reauthorization of Patriot Act

The Patriot Act was reaffirmed March 10, 2006 after nearly nine months of debate in the House and Senate. 

The provisions in the act, set to expire on Dec. 31, 2005, were temporarily extended twice to give lawmakers more time to debate the bill. 

Several events delayed the reauthorization, including Hurricane Katrina battering the Gulf Coast in late August 2005, diverting attention to the immediate needs of residents there. And then in December 2005, a New York Times report revealed a program allowing the National Security Agency to wiretap those suspected of potential terrorist activities within the United States without warrants from the FISA court. 

The warrantless wiretapping program galvanized Democrats who opposed the bill to draw attention to what they considered civil liberties rollbacks in the legislation. 

The expiring provisions included one that let federal officials obtain “tangible items,” such as business records, from libraries and bookstores, in connection with foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations.

Other provisions clarified that foreign intelligence or counterintelligence officers should share information obtained as part of a criminal investigation with counterparts in domestic law enforcement agencies. Yet other portions were designed to strengthen port security by imposing strict punishments on crew members who impede or mislead law enforcement officers trying to board their ships. 

A compromise version of the bill aimed to include more civil liberties protections, such as language saying people who receive subpoenas granted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for library, medical, computer and other records can challenge a gag order in court. 

Not all senators were on board, but a filibuster attempt by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., the only senator to vote against the original Patriot Act, failed, clearing the way for the final reauthorization vote. 

President Bush signed the reauthorization bill mere hours before the temporary extension would have ended. 

“The Patriot Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do,” he said at the bill-signing ceremony. “It has helped us detect terror cells, disrupt terrorist plots and save American lives. The bill I sign today extends these vital provisions. It also gives our nation new protections and added defenses.” 

The reauthorization made permanent 14 of the 16 provisions that were scheduled to expire March 10, 2006. 

California Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, lauded new measures that would “[bar] the government from using National Security Letters to obtain records from libraries functioning in their traditional roles,” and noted that “only libraries that also function as Internet service providers are now covered.” 

The provisions regarding the government authority to conduct “roving wiretaps” of targets with multiple phones or e-mail devices, and the government’s powers to seize business records with the FISA court’s approval are now set to expire Dec. 31, 2009. 

The reauthorization also included new tools designed to help law enforcement stop the trafficking of methamphetamine, such as tracking the purchase of over-the-counter ingredients and increasing federal penalties for smuggling and selling the drug (Belt, 2006). 

Patriot Act And Privacy 

On one hand where patriot act is helping in reducing terrorist activities, on the other hand it is also violating the civil rights and privacy of citizens. 

For Example: 

Federal agents may conduct surveillance and searches against U.S. citizens without having to show they have “probable cause” to suspect criminal activity. The targeted person is not notified, nor given a chance to challenge the action.

The government now has broad access to any person’s business or personal records, including library records; book-buying habits; medical, marital counseling or psychiatric files; business records; Web-surfing habits, credit reports and even a person’s genetic makeup (Russo, 2004).

The Act expands the type of information that may be collected by law enforcement officials from providers of electronic communications services or remote computing services. It also allows for the issuance of nationwide search warrants to facilitate the tracking of computer trespassers. Concerns about potential misuse of these data collection provisions could dampen citizen enthusiasm for carrying out electronic transactions with the government (Smith et al., 2002).

The patriot act also reduces the financial privacy. The feds have turned banks, brokerage houses, insurers and other financial institutions into state informers. Those firms must notify the Treasury Department about “suspicious” transactions, and the government can subpoena your checking-account records even if there is no evidence of wrongdoing (Lynch, 2003).

Following rights are being threatened by Patriot Act: 

  • First Amendment – Freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and the press. 
  • Fourth Amendment – Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. 
  • Fifth Amendment – No person to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. 
  • Sixth Amendment – Right to a speedy public trial by an impartial jury, right to be informed of the facts of the accusation, right to confront witnesses and have the assistance of counsel. 
  • Eighth Amendment – No excessive bail or cruel and unusual punishment shall be imposed. 
  • Fourteenth Amendment – All persons (citizens and noncitizens) within the US are entitled to due process and the equal protection of the laws (The USA PATRIOT ACT and Government Actions that Threaten Our Civil Liberties, 2001). 


The Patriot Act was established after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and its main point was to protect people from terrorism. Specifically, it allows FBI agents to search personal information of people, to read their emails, and listen to their private phone calls. Before the Patriot Act, the agents were not allowed to do this kind of research. They would need to have the permission of a judge. The patriot act gives a lot liberty to the FBI. 

After going through the various sections of the Patriot Act I come to a conclusion that on one hand The Patriot Act is effective in protecting the country from terrorist, Patriot act utilizes a broader definition of terrorism, domestic terrorism, and foreign power, whereas on the other hand it is also infringe upon the right to privacy of thousands of non-American citizens and foreign businesses. Basically the far-reaching amendments of the FISA ultimately eroded the civil liberties of the American people. 

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