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The Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act of the 21st Century Essay

The tragedy of September 11 revealed vulnerability to violence by non-state actors within U.S. borders. This was something we never thought would happen again after Pearl Harbor, to be attacked on our own land. These terrorist lived among us, while plotting to destroy us, it lend the question, how exactly do we stop someone who is not afraid to die? The only way to stop them is to foil the plan before it is carried out; this is the goal of the Patriot Act, for Homeland Security. In response to September 11, the United States reshaped its anti-terrorist strategies to prevent future attacks by targeting terrorists, foreign and domestic, known and potential.

October 26, 2001 the USA Patriot Act was signed into law, it facilitates the prosecution of terrorists, by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. Patriot Act was enacted to eliminate anachronistic laws that obstructed surveillance and intelligence-gathering activities by government agencies. Since its adoption however, debates has raged over how expanded surveillance and intelligence-gathering powers conflict with civil liberties, both in theory and in practice. (Toni Panetta)

Benjamin Franklin once said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Enacting the Patriot Act has had repercussions on our civil liberties through the complexity and scope of the law that’s dealing with the war on terror. From the PATRIOT Act; financial privacy concerns raised by U.S. investigation and prosecution of international money-laundering activities; bioterrorism; and the general conflict between national security and civil liberties have been raised.(Toni Panetta)

Christipher P. Banks from the Department of Political Science questions the institutional limits of policing antiterrorism legislation? Does the lack of sufficient oversight built into antiterrorism law exact unanticipated costs to agencies or citizens? He states there has been an unprecedented accumulation of prosecutorial authority in the aftermath of 9/11, but diminishing oversight by Congress and the courts. Congressional oversight, defined as the part of the political process which lets the legislature control agency behavior in an essential check in a system of separated powers and a key to preventing executive abuse of power.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the FBI to order any person or entity to turn over “any tangible things,” so long as the FBI “specif[ies]” that the order is “for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” This vastly expands the FBI’s power to spy on ordinary people living in the United States, including United States citizens and permanent residents.The FBI need not show probable cause, nor even reasonable grounds to believe, that the person whose records it seeks is engaged in criminal activity. The FBI need not have any suspicion that the subject of the investigation is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power. (ACLU)

The FBI can investigate United States persons based in part on their exercise of First Amendment rights, and it can investigate non-United States persons based solely on their exercise of First Amendment rights. Those who are the subjects of the surveillance are never notified that their privacy has been compromised. If the government had been keeping track of what books a person had been reading, or what web sites she had been visiting, the person would never know.(ACLU) The provision violates the First Amendment by prohibiting those served with Section 215 orders from disclosing that fact to others, even where there is no real need for secrecy. The provision violates the First Amendment by effectively authorizing the FBI to investigate U.S. persons, including American citizens, based in part on their exercise of First Amendment activity, and by authorizing the FBI to investigate non-U.S. persons based solely on their exercise of First Amendment activity. The provision violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments by failing to require that those who are the subject of Section 215 orders be told that their privacy has been compromised.(ACLU)

The PATRIOT Act had lofty aspirations, for it was designed to correct five perceived weaknesses, or failures, of the national government to prevent the 9/11 atrocity. It sought 1) to improve sharing of information between law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies; 2) to gather antiterrorism intelligence by taking advantage of the flexible warrants requirement of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA); 3) to expand wiretap authority over electronic communications; 4) to seize funding utilized in terrorist activities; and 5) to impose mandatory detention and deportation of non-U. S. citizens who are suspected of having links to terrorist organization (Christopher P. Banks. 2004. “Protecting (or Destroying) Freedom through Law: The USA PATRIOT Act’s Constitutional Implications.” American National Security and Civil Liberties in an Era of Terrorism. David B. Cohen and John W. Wells. New York: Palgrave MacMillan).

But as the years have passed and the terrorist attacks seem further away, people have begun to question whether too many restrictions on law enforcement were rolled back. Recent news that President Bush has authorized the wiretapping of some phone calls in the United States without court orders upset many. While the government has defended these actions by saying that only suspected terrorists were targeted, some citizens are citing them as further examples of civil liberties being eroded by the Patriot Act. (SPEAK OUT)

Proponents of the act suggest that its provisions are ensuring a safer United States. They say citizens should remain focused on the issue of safety, the central point of the Patriot Act. “Any suggestion of civil liberties violations is an effort to shift the focus of the discussion away from the facts,” Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said. “There have been no verified civil liberties violations filed against the Patriot Act, period.” Those in favor of the Patriot Act note that no major terrorist attack has occurred on U.S. soil since the bill’s passage. In addition, several terrorist plots have been foiled both here and abroad. President
Bush declares the Patriot act to be “essential to fighting the war on terror and preventing our enemies from striking America again.” (Speak Out)

Opponents of the act and its renewal say that the safety of the United States is not affected by the Patriot Act and that the cost to our freedom is too high. They are led by organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and many congressional leaders. Senator Russ Feingold, who has opposed the Patriot Act since its inception in 2001, has argued that the Patriot Act threatens the privacy and personal freedoms of every citizen, despite claims that only suspected terrorists are affected by the law. “The privacy of law-abiding Americans is at stake, along with their confidence in their government,” Feingold said in February 2005. “Congress should act to protect our privacy and reassure our citizens.” (Speak Out)

The government already has the authority to prosecute anyone whom it has probable cause to believe has committed or is planning to commit a crime. It also has the authority to engage in surveillance of anyone whom it has probable cause to believe is a foreign power or spy – whether or not the person is suspected of any crime. Section 215 takes away a great deal of our liberty and privacy but isn’t likely to get us any security in return.

This was eye opening for me, I knew about the Patriot Act but I did not clearly understand the extent of power the Government was given or the liberties I was losing with this law. It is a scary thing to know I could be under investigation and not know and there isn’t a thing I can do about it. I wonder if the American citizens felt the same way I did until today, that whatever it takes the Government to do it to prevent another terror attack is fine with me, I feel really uncomfortable with that decision now. I was extremely naive and uneducated about what I was willing to just give away. In my opinion this law is wrong in so many ways.

ACLU American Civil Liberties Union ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York NY 10004 This is the website of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation.Learn more about these two components of the ACLU.

Annenberg Classrom Resources for Excellent Civics Education Speak Out National Security vs.Civil Liberty.The Leonore Anneberg Institute for Civics http://www.annenbergclassroom.org/
Christopher p. Banks Research Articles Security and Freedom After September 11 The Institutional Limits and Ethical Costs of Terrorism Prosecutions http://www.kent.edu/polisci/people/upload/security-and-freedom-after-911.pdf

2010-11. Security & Freedom after September 11: The Institutional Limits & Ethical Costs of Terrorism Prosecutions, Public Integrity: A Journal of the American Society for Public Administration 13 (No. 1, Winter): 5-24; DOI 10.2753/PIN1099-9922130101

The USA PATRIOT Act by Toni Panetta http://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/terror/patriotact.pdf

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