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Encyclopedia > Patriot Act
President Bush signs USA Patriot Act, October 26, 2001

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act, H.R. 3162, S. 1510, Public Law 107-56) is a United States legislative law, enacted in response to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks.

The bill passed 98-1 in the United States Senate, and 356-66 in the United States House of Representatives; Senator Russ Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin) cast the Senate's lone dissenting vote.

President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on October 26, 2001. Assistant attorney general Viet D. Dinh was the chief architect of the act. As of November 16, 2004, the PATRIOT Act has been used to charge 372 suspected terrorists and convict 194 of them.



The USA PATRIOT Act is an extremely complex and lengthy piece of legislation containing 1,016 sections and amending over 15 federal statutes. Much of it incorporates previous foreign intelligence acts particularly the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Amended statutes include laws governing criminal procedure, computer fraud, foreign intelligence, wiretapping, and immigration. Also contained are provisions dealing with financial assistance to victims of terrorism, increased benefits for public-safety workers and consumer protection from fraudulent charitable solicitations after an attack.

See also: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Challenges to limit the USA PATRIOT Act

United States Senate

On July 31, 2003, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), introduced the "Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act" (S. 1552) [1] (http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2003_cr/s1552.html). This bill would revise several provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act to increase judicial review. For example, instead of PEN/Trap warrants to track Internet usage being based on the claims of law-enforcement, they would be based on "specific and articulable facts that reasonably indicate that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed, and that information likely to be obtained by such installation and use is relevant to the investigation of that crime." However, the Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act doesn't address the portion of Sec. 216 of the USA PATRIOT Act which allows unnamed-persons to be subject to a PEN/Trap warrant based on law-enforcement certifying that those individuals should have been named.

United States House of Representatives

On September 24, 2003, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, introduced legislation into the US House of Representatives to repeal more than ten sections of the Act. The bill, titled the "Benjamin Franklin True Patriot Act", looks to review certain sections of the USA PATRIOT Act, including those that authorize sneak and peek searches, warrantless library, medical, and financial record searches, and the detention and deportation of non-citizens without meaningful judicial review. Beyond the USA PATRIOT Act, the bill cements the fundamental right of Attorney/Client Privilege and restores transparency in the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security by revoking FOIA secrecy orders, along with other important provisions.

Bernie Sanders (I-VT) with Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), C. L. Otter (R-Idaho), and Ron Paul (R-Texas) proposed an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Bill of 2005 which would cut off funding to the Department of Justice for searches conducted under Section 215. The amendment failed to pass the House with a tie vote, 210–210. Although the original vote came down in favor of the amendment, the vote was held open and several House members were persuaded to change their votes. [2] (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A37480-2004Jul8.html)

American Civil Liberties Union

Main article: ACLU v. Ashcroft

On April 9, 2004 the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the national security letter (NSL)[3] (http://assembler.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode18/usc_sec_18_00002709----000-.html) provisions of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act which allows the FBI to obtain customer records from phone and Internet companies in terrorism investigations. The ACLU successfully argued that phone companies and ISPs should be able to disclose receiving a subpoena from the FBI and it outweighs the FBI's need for secrecy in counter-terrorism investigations. No part of the Patriot Act was impacted.

Federal Judge rules Section 805 unconstitutional

On January 23, 2004, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins ruled that Section 805 - which classifies "expert advice or assistance" as material support to terrorism - was unconstitutional and in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments - marking the first legal decision to set a part of the act aside. The lawsuit against the act was brought by the Humanitarian Law Project, representing five organizations and two U.S. citizens who wanted to provide expert advice to Kurdish refugees in Turkey. Groups providing aid to these organizations had suspended their activities for fear of violating the Patriot Act, and they filed a lawsuit against the Departments of Justice and State to challenge the law, claiming the phrase "expert advice or assistance" was too vague. [4] (http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/01/27/patriot.act/)

Federal Judge rules Section 505 unconstitutional

On September 29, 2004, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero struck down Section 505 - which allowed the government to issue "National Security Letters" to obtain sensitive customer records from Internet Service Providers and other businesses without judicial oversight - was in violation of the First and Fourth Amendment. The court also found the broad gag provision in the law to be an "unconstitutional prior restraint" on free speech. [5] (http://www.nysd.uscourts.gov/rulings/04CV2614_Opinion_092904.pdf)

Public opinion

According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll of September 9, 2003:

  • 75% of Americans are not worried about the USA PATRIOT Act violating their civil rights;[6] (http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr030909.asp#rm)
  • 22% say the legislation goes "too far";
  • 21%, say "not far enough";
  • A plurality, 48%, says the Act is "about right".

According to recent polls, 52% of Americans report being concerned that their civil liberties are being infringed by the administration's war on terrorism. [7] (http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0422/hentoff.php)

Alleged abuses under the PATRIOT Act

  • In Las Vegas, police used the PATRIOT Act to subpoena two stockbrokers for evidence in a public official corruption case against a strip club owner (who ultimately pled guilty). Supporters of the PATRIOT Act point out that Section 314 of the act states it can be applied to activities "that may involve terrorist acts OR money-laundering activities". Accordingly, the federal investigators' actions did not exceed the authority of the PATRIOT Act. [8] (http://yconservatives.com/Carmack-62.html)
  • The FBI ordered a handful of journalists that had written about computer hacker Adrian Lamo to turn over their notes and other information under the auspices of the PATRIOT Act. Supporters of the PATRIOT Act point out that journalists -- like all other citizens -- are not privileged from being subjected to subpoenas when they possess information relevant to a criminal investigation.[9] (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/09/29/fbi_bypasses_first_amendment/)
  • Beyond the above examples, in September 2003, the New York Times reported that a study by Congress showed hundreds of cases where the PATRIOT Act was used to investigate non-terrorist crimes. [10] (http://www.jointogether.org/sa/news/summaries/reader/0,1854,567051,00.html). Supporters of the PATRIOT Act point out that the Act is not limited to "terrorist crimes," and further that the New York Times report referred to above misconstrued the nature of many of the investigations conducted under the PATRIOT Act.
  • In April 2004, a Muslim Idaho man went on trial on charges of supporting terrorism by maintaining some web sites (among many he assisted) that supported violent activities. [11] (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13072-2004Apr14.html) This type of "guilt by association" was resurrected by the 1996 "anti-terrorism" act signed by President Clinton, but was further expanded under the PATRIOT Act. Supporters of the PATRIOT Act point out that prosecutors did not try Mr. Al-Hussayen because of his association with the website, but because he actively participated in raising money for terrorist organizations, recruiting terrorists, and disseminating inflammatory rhetoric via his website. Prosecutors said the sites included religious edicts justifying suicide bombings and an invitation to contribute financially to the militant Palestinian organization Hamas.
  • In May 2004, the FBI cordoned off the entire block of a University of Buffalo associate art professor's house, impounding his computers, manuscripts, books, equipment for further analysis and The Buffalo Health Department temporarily condemned the house as a health risk after suspicious vials and bacterial cultures were discovered at his home. The professor, whose art involves the use of biology equipment as part of a project educating the public about the politics of biotechnology was charged with violations under the Section 175 of the US Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act which was expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act. [12] (http://www.caedefensefund.org/) [13] (http://www.newfarm.org/news/0604/061104/bio_artist.shtml) Supporters of the PATRIOT Act point out that the investigation of Mr. Kurtz began after he called 911 to report that his 45-year-old wife had died overnight. At that point, police noticed a mobile DNA extraction laboratory and petri dishes containing E. coli bacteria in his home. Mr. Kurtz contended that the biological agents were being used in his latest art project, but police felt compelled to investigate further. Moreover, Mr. Kurtz was not charged with a violation of the PATRIOT Act or the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act.
  • The ACLU was prevented from releasing the text of its countersuit challenging aspects of the PATRIOT Act because the government claimed it would violate secrecy provisions of the act. [14] (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A51423-2004Apr28.html) Supporters of the PATRIOT Act point out that the ACLU's constitutional challenge was disclosed, and only the details of an ongoing federal investigation were redacted. Moreover, the secrecy provisions of the PATRIOT Act are subject to both judicial and congressional oversight.
  • The maintainer of a TV-show fan website was charged with copyright infringement after the MPAA directed the FBI to obtain records from the site's Internet service provider about the site under the USA PATRIOT Act [15] (http://www.sg1archive.com/nightmare.shtml) [16] (http://yro.slashdot.org/yro/04/07/27/129219.shtml?tid=153&tid=214&tid=129) Supporters of the PATRIOT Act point out that McGaughey was charged with copyright violations and computer fraud, and that the PATRIOT Act amended the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Accordingly, the use of the PATRIOT Act was entirely appropriate.
  • Sherman Austin, anarchist and webmaster of Raise the Fist, plead guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. 842(p)[17] (http://assembler.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode18/usc_sec_18_00000842----000-.html), a 1997 "anti-terrorism" statute authored by California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein[18] (http://feinstein.senate.gov/03Releases/r-bombmaking3.htm) that prohibits the distribution of bombmaking information knowing or intending that the information will be used in a violent federal crime. Many wrongly assume this case was investigated or prosecuted using the PATRIOT Act.

Expiration and possible renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act

Sunset provisions

Under PAT 224, several of the surveillance portions of PATRIOT will expire on December 31, 2005.

Provisions that will expire

  • 201. Authority To Intercept Wire, Oral, And Electronic Communications Relating To Terrorism.
  • 202. Authority To Intercept Wire, Oral, And Electronic Communications Relating To Computer Fraud And Abuse Offenses.
  • 203(b), (d). Authority To Share Criminal Investigative Information.
  • 206. Roving Surveillance Authority Under The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Of 1978.
  • 207. Duration Of FISA Surveillance Of Non-United States Persons Who Are Agents Of A Foreign Power.
  • 209. Seizure Of Voice-Mail Messages Pursuant To Warrants.
  • 212. Emergency Disclosure Of Electronic Communications To Protect Life And Limb.
  • 214. Pen Register And Trap And Trace Authority Under FISA.
  • 215. Access To Records And Other Items Under FISA.
  • 217. Interception Of Computer Trespasser Communications.
  • 218. Foreign Intelligence Information.
  • 220. Nationwide Service Of Search Warrants For Electronic Evidence.
  • 223. Civil Liability For Certain Unauthorized Disclosures.

Permanent/non-expiring provisions

  • 203(a),(c). Authority To Share Criminal Investigative Information.
  • 208. Designation Of Judges.
  • 210. Scope Of Subpoenas For Records Of Electronic Communications.
  • 211. Clarification Of Scope [privacy provisions of Cable Act overridden for communication services offered by cable providers (but not for records relating to cable viewing.)]
  • 213. Authority For Delaying Notice Of The Execution Of A Warrant--"Sneak and Peek"
  • 216. Modification Of Authorities Relating To Use Of Pen Registers And Trap And Trace Devices.
  • 219. Single-Jurisdiction Search Warrants For Terrorism.
  • 222. Assistance To Law Enforcement Agencies.
  • 225. Immunity For Compliance With Fisa Wiretap. Can continue all investigations active at the time of expiration.

See also

  • US governmental response to the September 11 attacks
  • Homeland security
  • Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, also known as PATRIOT II.
  • ACLU v. Ashcroft - the court opinion mentions PATRIOT Act three times but provisions of the PATRIOT Act were not adjudicated. [19] (http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/_ws-taking_dictation.htm)

Historical similarities to other laws

External links and references



Act overview]; Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr

  • A video about Patriot Act (http://www.volkz.net/sky/en/musicayvideos/index.php)

  Results from FactBites:
USA Patriot Act - Human Rights Magazine, Winter 2002 (1793 words)
Notwithstanding the haste with which Congress acted, the provisions of the new law relating to electronic surveillance, for the most part, are a sound effort to provide new tools for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to combat terrorism while preserving the civil liberties of individual Americans.
A common problem running through many of the new authorities contained in the Patriot Act is the reliance on executive branch supervision rather than meaningful review by a neutral magistrate of the potentially highly intrusive surveillance techniques that are authorized.
Therefore, as the new powers granted under the Patriot Act begin to be exercised, we should not only feel more confident that our country has the tools to be safe but we should be ever vigilant that these new tools are not abused.
Elaine Scarry: Resolving to Resist (8627 words)
Third, the Patriot Act does indeed differ from all the other forms of executive action in one key respect that has proved crucial to the work of resistance, and that attribute will be explored in the final section of the essay.
The Patriot Act inverts the constitutional requirement that people's lives be private and the work of government officials be public; it instead crafts a set of conditions in which our inner lives become transparent and the workings of the government become opaque.
Defenders of the Patriot Act sometimes argue that the urgency of repeal is mitigated by the "sunset clause," which shuts down the act on December 31, 2005.
  More results at FactBites »



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