Throughout the 1940s and 1950s America was overwhelmed with concerns about the threat of Communism growing in Eastern Europe and China. It was the height of the Cold War and Americans began to fear that Communists may infiltrate and take over the United States government. Capitalizing on those concerns, a young Senator named Joseph McCarthy made a public accusation that more than two hundred "card-carrying" Communists had been working in the United States government. During a span of about 4 years, McCarthy accused hundreds of innocent people of being Communist with little or no concrete evidence. Fear caused the American people to succumb to the preposterous charges brought forth by McCarthy. Though eventually his accusations were proven to be untrue, and he was censured by the Senate for unbecoming conduct, his zealous campaigning ushered in one of the most repressive times in 20th-century American politics, known by the term of McCarthyism. Since the 1950s, McCarthyism has been referred to as the unfair tactic of accusing people of disloyalty without providing evidence. .
Fifty years later, American people are faced with a new concern: Terrorism. In the wake of 9/11, the United States government had signed into law the USA PATRIOT Act, just six weeks after the attack, an overnight revision of the nation's surveillance laws. Its formal name is the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act." Its stated purpose is "to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes." The USA PATRIOT Act gives the FBI and the CIA greater rights to wiretap phones, monitor internet usage, survey medical, financial and student records, and break into homes and offices without prior notification. It creates a new crime of domestic terrorism that is so broadly defined that it may be applied to citizens acting legally to express their dissent.