The USA Patriot Act was a great name for marketing a bill that essentially opened the door for our government to spy on American citizens in the name of national security.
The USA Patriot Act of 2001 actually stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.”
The Patriot Act was a knee-jerk reaction to 9/11. Playing off the fears of the American population and their Congressional representatives, the 300+ page bill was fast-tracked to passage. The bill was submitted to the House on October 24, 2001 and a vote scheduled within an hour. The Act passed the House 357 to 66. On October 25, 2001, the Act passed the Senate by 98 to 1, with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold the only dissenting vote. President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot Act into law on October 26, 2001.
Obviously the bill did not get read by the House members with only a one hour window for review. Nonetheless, they still voted and passed the bill without really understanding what they were passing. When asked about this, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. commented “We don’t read most of the bills. Do you really know what that would entail if we read every bill that we passed?”
“We’re not sacrificing civil liberties. We’re securing civil liberties.”
– Attorney General John Ashcroft, September 11, 2002
The purpose of the Patriot Act was to make it easier for the law enforcement agencies to prevent future terrorist attacks against Americans by having access to private information about suspected terrorists. However, it has facilitated the unwanted and overreaching intrusion of government into our own private lives, with very little evidence or cause. The Patriot Act made it easier for the government to monitor phone and email communications, collect bank and credit reporting records, and track the activity of innocent Americans. It even required public libraries to keep records of who checked out what books, and to submit them to the government upon request. Even worse, it allows the government to arrest and detain American citizens without charge or trial if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is somehow associated with terrorist activity. The Patriot Act actually turns regular American citizens into suspects.
Prior to Edward Snowden’s disclosures we really did not know or understand the scope of our government’s surveillance program. We have now learned that the NSA is collecting massive amounts of bulk data on all American citizens. Government and law enforcement agencies have access to this private personal data without your approval, without you ever knowing, and without a warrant from a judge.
This is a very fine line between violating American citizen’s rights and protecting their lives. Have we sacrificed our civil liberties by creating a police state?
It has been almost fifteen years since the Patriot Act was enacted and the government has obviously taken advantage of our weakened privacy laws and the public’s lack of knowledge. It is time to review every aspect of the Patriot Act and replace it with a law that restores our civil rights and privacy while still providing government and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to assist in providing national security, with limitations.
Last week, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice released a report in which he found that the bulk collection of data has not stopped a single act of terror or aided a single federal terrorism prosecution since the Patriot Act became law on October 26, 2001.
This bulk collection of data statute is the section of the Patriot Act that is set to expire on June 1 unless Congress passes an extension.