Surveillance Under the Patriot Act

Topics: Patriot Act

On September eleventh, 2001 a terrorist group named al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airline jets. Three of the four jets hit crucial locations, two hitting the World Trade Center in New York and one hitting the pentagon in Virginia, while the fourth was retaken by the passengers and crash landed in a Pennsylvania field. This attack was the deadliest terrorist attack in history, which resulted in the Bush administration submitting a draft of the Uniting and Strengthening America (USA) Patriot (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act to congress which would expand the power of the government to supervise, investigate and detain people who were thought to be terrorist.

This Act, unlike many other Acts, was given a week to be revised and passed due to the fear of another terroristic attack, which resulted in some questionable decisions. When the patriot act was drafted, it had ten titles enclosed within it that defined the powers that were given to it, and the authority it had to execute certain actions, which lead to the formation of a new agency.

With the passing of the Patriot Act, came the birth of a new power to the National Security Agency (NSA), a new agency to supervise and formulate the procedures and measures to be taken to protect America from both foreign and domestic terrorists. But with this new power granted to the NSA also came those in the public who feared what the government could possible do and was hesitant to trust the Act.

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Under the first title of the Patriot Act, it 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 (How the Patriot Act works). The next section expands law enforcement agency’s power to conduct surveillance on agents of foreign powers. It also allowed interception of communications if they are believed to be related to terrorist events (How the Patriot Act works). In addition, it authorizes roving surveillance, a court order that allows the surveillance of a person by any means necessary regardless of their location.

Before this the only surveillance that could be allowed was wiretapping which required the subject to be at a specific location (How the Patriot Act works). Another important power that Title two had, was the ability to delay warrants, this would help prevent suspects from being notified to prevent disposal or tampering with evidence. The third section of the Title targets the funds for terrorist groups, by allowing law enforcement agencies to gather information from and elongates person sentencing for money laundering and smuggling (How the Patriot Act works). The fourth section provides provisions to strengthen American boarders by increasing funding for border control, customs officials and immigration officers (How the Patriot Act works). It also bans foreigners for the United States that have ties with terrorist organizations. The fifth Title introduced the use of National Security Letters (NSL), These letters are a demand/order to release of all information related to a suspect under investigation. This is a very powerful tool for the reason of, it has a gag order that prevents the suspect from ever knowing or speaking about the actions or circumstances surrounding the situation. Also, these letters are not subject for Judicial review and probable cause (How the Patriot Act works).

The sixth section provides financial compensation to victims and their families who have been affected by terrorism (How the Patriot Act works). The seventh provides authorization of increased sharing of information between law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions (How the Patriot Act works). The eighth section adds more crimes that could be considered terroristic acts and makes the punishment for the following more severe, attacking mass transit systems, use of biological weapons, supporting terroristic group and computer hacking (How the Patriot Act works). The ninth section creates a method of commination between the government agencies, to help share national intelligence. The tenth and finally section of the Patriot act contains small but important revisions such as, the limitation of who can obtain a hazmat licenses, training to first responders on how to handle a terrorist situation (How the Patriot Act works).

After the Patriot Act had been established, it granted the National Security Agency a new power and ability that was originally declared to be illegal, it allows the NSA to listen and record the unknowing citizens of America (Comparitech). With this power the NSA, in the mid 2000’s, used the Patriot Act to force tech and telecommunication companies to release private information to the NSA (American Civil Liberties Union). Under the Act, the NSA could force the recipient to not disclose what had happened to anyone. These acts by a government agency left a sour taste in the American public on the topic of surveillance under the Patriot Act. Prior to these events, in 2002 and 2003, the American people were given polls to gauge where the public stood on this new act. In 2002 almost half of the American people were fine with their rights being violated, if the government was preventing terrorism and a quarter of the public believed the government should go further than what has already been established ( While a few years later the public would completely flip their option on the situation when it was discovered that they were the ones the government was spying on.

During the middle of 2003 the people starting to have their uncertainties, three states (Alaska, Hawaii, and Vermont) and 149 cities, towns and counties have passed resolutions protesting provisions of the Patriot Act that dealt with “sneak and peak” warrants, which allows law enforcement entry into private premises without the owner’s permission. (American Civil Liberties Union) The Patriot Act is a still pretty controversial topic even to today’s times, there are those in the nation who believe that the Patriot Act has been very efficient to help prevent another terrorist attack on the United States. That It has allowed the federal government the ability to investigate threats of national security, by modifying the capiablity of investigation tools that reflect modern technologies, by eliminating barriers to effective national security investigations, and giving national security investigators the same tools that has long been used by those agencies who do not handle national security ( ). This act brought attention to potential overlooked areas where terrorist could gain a monetary advantage. But there are others disagree with the bill, who argue that the bill was pasted too fast that the government was Appling too much political pressure on the Congress to pass the act, to avoid looking unamerican in the wake of a national tragedy (Debunking the Patriot Act as It Turns 15).

People also believe that parts of the Patriot Act were passed with the intention of being used as ways to combat terrorism but were instead used against everyday criminals and used in situations they should not be. Such as the sneak and peak search warrants that allow law enforcement to enter a private resident without permission or the knowledge of the resident. Also, the National Security Agency’s use of phone recording to conduct surveillance on the American people (Debunking the Patriot Act as It Turns 15). Skepticism aside, the Patriot Act, since its establishment it has successfully stopped multiple terroristic events, 30 since the passing of the passing of the Patriot Act (The Heritage Foundation). Cases such as the incident with Michael Finton, in September twenty-third of 2009. Where Finton, an American citizen, was arrested by undercover FBI agents after he attempted to detonate a car bomb filled with close to a ton of explosives next to a Federal Building and Courthouse (The Heritage Foundation). This capture saved countless American civilian lives and never would have been made possible without the powers given by the patriot act.

In recent years the Patriot Act has been renewed and revised into the Freedom Act, which is similar but very different at the same time to the Patriot Act (National Archives and Records Administration). The Freedom Act extends many of the provisions under the Patriot Act, but due to much public scrutiny, it has been limited to its surveillance capabilities (Comparitech). Such as it still allows intelligence agencies to collect data from companies, but gag orders are no longer allowed to be issued, so the public knows when data is being collected (Comparitech). The Patriot Act was a significant idea that opened the door to a new era and realm of future court cases to come. It vastly extended the power of governmental agencies permitting them to do actions that were never done before. It also paved the road to technological advances that would help prevent terroristic attacks on the American people. Without the passing of this act, who know the amount of lives that could have been lost without the provisions and protects provide by the Patriot Act.

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Surveillance Under the Patriot Act. (2022, Apr 23). Retrieved from

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