Patriot Act: For Protection or an Invasion of Privacy?.
The Patriot Act is a 342 page law that was written and passed, by a 98-1 vote in the U.S. Senate, and then signed into law within seven weeks of September 11th. As a result the government gained new power to wiretap phones, confiscate property of suspected terrorists, spy on its own citizens without judicial review, conduct secret searches and snoop on the reading habits of library users. On October 26, 2001, President Bush signed the USA Patriot Act (USAPA) into law. With this law we have given sweeping new powers to both domestic law enforcement and international intelligence agencies and have eliminated the checks and balances that previously gave courts the opportunity to ensure that these powers were not abused. Most of these checks and balances were put into place after previous misuse of surveillance powers by these agencies, including the revelation in 1974 that the FBI and foreign intelligence agencies had spied on over 10,000 U.S. citizens, including Martin Luther King. .
The bill is extremely long and makes changes, some large and some small, to over 15 different statutes. This document provides explanation and some analysis to the sections of the bill relating to online activities and surveillance. Other sections, including those devoted to money laundering, immigration and providing for the victims of terrorism, are not discussed here. Yet even just considering the surveillance and online provisions of the USAPA, it is a large and complex law that had over four different names and several versions in the five weeks between the introduction of its first predecessor and its final passage into law. While containing some sections that seem appropriate -- providing for victims of the September 11 attacks, increasing translation facilities and increasing forensic cybercrime capabilities -- it seems clear that the vast majority of the sections included have not been carefully studied by Congress, nor was sufficient time taken to debate it or to hear testimony from experts outside of law enforcement in the fields where it makes major changes.