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The Patriot Act

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I. Introduction

II. The Birth of the Patriot Act

III. The Patriot Act Brings Justice and Security

A. By Government Surveillance and Detection

B. By Criminal Law and Procedure

C. By Border Protection and Immigration Procedure

IV. The Patriot Act Threatens Freedom

A. By Prohibiting Freedom of Speech and Association

B. By Invading the Right to Privacy

C. By Violating Due Process of Law

V. Conclusion

One of the most basic responsibilities of the American government is to protect the people. Thus, it came as no surprise when the Federal government took drastic measures for homeland security after September 11, 2001. When Congress passed a bill over 300 pages in length -- within days -- to combat terrorism, few objected. In fact, it took time for Americans to learn a difficult and complicated lesson: that security can sometimes come at the impossible cost of liberty. This paper will demonstrate that while the Patriot Act brings justice and security, it threatens freedom. This essay will probe this first by explaining the various ways the Patriot Act brings justice and security and then by showing how it threatens freedom.

The Birth of the Patriot Act

Just six weeks after September 11 attacks, a panicked Congress passed the USA Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism), an overnight revision of the nation's surveillance laws. Its sole purpose is to protect people from terrorism and to prevent future strikes to the United States. It allows U.S. intelligence agents and law enforcement officials to make collecting information on suspected and potential terrorists easier. This is accomplished by permitting them to search people's emails, listen to their private phone calls, and spy-in on a range of other effects that could cause a potential threat. The hope is that the more information the authorities possess on these people, the better the chance that the agents will identify terrorist attacks before they occur. Taken at face value, it is difficult to argue against this strategy. However many law experts and civilians libertarians see a potential for abuse in the additional surveillance freedoms granted by the Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act Brings Justice and Security

The Patriot Act brings justice and security in several different ways. It increases the government's surveillance powers, defines criminal law, and enhances border protection and immigration procedures.

The Patriot Act increases the government's surveillance and detection powers in four areas. First, it permits record searches by expanding the government's ability to look at records on an individual's activity being held by a third party such as doctors, libraries, bookstores, universities, and internet service providers. Second, it enables secret searches, which means that the government can search private property without notice to the owner. This means that the government can enter a house, apartment, or office with a search warrant and when the occupants are away search their property, take photographs, and in some cases even seize property. Third it makes intelligence searches by wiretapping. And fourth, it legalizes "trap and trace" searches. "Trap and trace" searches are when the government can legally search out and then collect "addressing" information about the origin and destination of communications. These four things greatly aid government officials when attempting to find possible attacks to the Unites States and provide justice and security.

Criminal law is another important asset to bringing justice and security; the Patriot Act creates laws and defines offenses in order that criminals may be prosecuted. The ultimate goal is that future acts of terrorism may be deterred due to the clear consequences of the offenders. The Patriot Act defines domestic and Federal crimes of terrorism; the creation of penalties for terrorist conspiracies and offenses; prevention of cyber terrorism and development of cyber security forensic capabilities; surveillance of terrorist harboring, material support, and assets of terrorist organizations; post-release supervision of terrorists; and the inclusion of terrorist attacks against mass transit systems. No doubt, the strengthening of criminal laws against terrorism clearly reinforces the strong foundation for the justice and security of our nation.

The Patriot Act maintains justice and security in another area: border protection and immigration procedures. The provisions of the Patriot Act generally increase the difficulty of entering the country for those known or suspected to have terrorist intent. It gives more law enforcement and investigative powers to the United States Attorney General and to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It also increases the authority of the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) of what is currently known as the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Service) to track down illegal immigrants with terrorist ties. Maintaining border protection and immigration procedures is just one more way that the Patriot Act provides our invaluable justice and security.

The Patriot Act Threatens Freedom

As one can see, the Patriot Act has clear benefits and capability in securing the safety and freedom of America. However, this bill also has many problems, some of which are very serious. More recently, people have begun to realize that the Patriot Act is a major threat to freedom, as it permits greater government interference in individual lives. An often repeated argument since the September 11 terrorist attacks is that Americans must now choose between robust national defense and their civil liberties. Freedom and security are competing virtues, and the expansion of one entails the contraction of another. In other words, the loss of certain freedom is the price that must be paid for additional security. Some are eager to make that exchange, while other consider the price too dear. Members of the House and the Senate fought hart to strike a balance between increasing the power of intelligence and law enforcement personnel and eroding civil liberties including the right to privacy granted to all American citizens.



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