'Patriot' Games

Essay by reyad21University, Bachelor'sA+, May 2006

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The clumsily-titled "Uniting and Strengthening America by providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" (145) introduced a plethora of legislative changes which significantly increased the surveillance and investigative powers of law enforcement agencies in the United States. Legislative proposals in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were introduced less than a week after the attacks. President Bush signed the final bill, the U.S.A PATRIOT Act, into law on October 26, 2001 (United States Congress). Though the act made significant amendments to over fifteen important statutes, it was introduced with great haste and passed with little debate, and without a House, Senate, or conference report. "Civil libertarians are troubled", critic Richard Posner claims, because "They fear that concerns about national security will lead to an erosion of civil liberties" (141). Advocates of civil liberties are appalled at the Patriot Act as a most 'Unpatriotic' invasion of privacy.

Civil liberties advocates argue that the scope of the FBI's powers under Section 215 of the U.S.A PATRIOT Act is broader than what government officials have publicly acknowledged. Among other things, the documents show that the controversial provision can be used to obtain an individual's apartment keys. The '2003 Foreign Surveillance Act' annual report reveals that Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted 1,724 applications for secret surveillance last year, more than in any previous year (http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fisa/). The report shows that 2003 was the first year ever that more secret surveillance warrants were granted than federal wiretap warrants, which are issued only under a more stringent standard. The Patriot Act significantly expanded the government's authority to make use of secret surveillance, "including in circumstances where part of the investigation is unrelated to an intelligence investigation" ("A Question of Freedom"); thus violating the "Amendment IV" of the United States Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and

effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,

and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath

or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and

the persons or things to be seized"(147).

The Fourth Amendment plays a central role in the preservation of our basic liberties; the civil rights secured by the Fourth Amendment are constantly being violated by the Patriot Act.

Today, the houses of American citizens can be and have been monitored without the resident's approval. Now, the home phones, work phones, and cellular phones of American citizens can be and have been tapped without anyone ever receiving a warrant. The e-mail and regular mail of American citizens has been intercepted without ever receiving a warrant. "Antiterrorism measures", characterized by Patricia Williams "allow law enforcement to 'sneak and peak' into private homes and personal computers based on the suspicions of individual officers, without judicial oversight and accountability" (417). Criticizing this issue, she suggests a rather impossible solution when she mentions, "Our homes, backpacks, offices, pockets and cars will have to be suitably sanitized of books they haven't read, of science they don't understand, or art that unsettles them ... and of ideas that are so creative as to seem foreign" (418). American citizens or immigrants can be detained without being advised of the crime they are alleged to have committed. Those in favor of the Patriot Act will be quick to point out that warrants are issued for all of these things, but they will fail to tell you that they are secret warrants, and that all documents pertaining thereto, including the warrant are sealed and unavailable, especially to the person under investigation, citizen or not. The law on surveillance begins with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which states clearly that Americans' privacy may not be invaded without a warrant based on probable cause. On these grounds, the legislation of the Patriot Act can be ruled 'unconstitutional'.

Indeed, the Constitution was tossed out the window when the U.S.A PATRIOT Act was passed; mistakes can now be and have been made without our knowledge. Elaine Scarry, in her essay, Acts of Resistance, writes, "As necessary to democracy as the

nontransparency of persons is the transparency of government actions" (147). However, contrary to Scarry's opinion; the public is not made aware of the secret warrants, and since they are not viewable in any case, government agents can at any time perform surveillance activities when they do not even posses a secret warrant authorizing them to do so. Who is going to know? Many surveillance activities have occurred in just such circumstances; agents have been caught checking into reading habits of citizens and performing unnecessary checks on American citizens who are buying a house. Many of the provisions of the Act relating to surveillance were proposed before September 11th, and were subject to much critic and debate. John Podesta, former White House Chief of Staff from 1998-2001, made an important statement:

The events of September 11th convinced ... overwhelming majorities in

Congress that law enforcement and national security officials need new

Legal tools to fight terrorism. But we should not forget what gave rise to

the original position - many aspects of the bill increase the opportunity

for law enforcement and the intelligence community to return to an era

where they monitored and sometimes harassed individuals who were

merely exercising their First Amendment rights. Nothing that occurred

on September 11 mandates that we return to such an era. (John Podesta,

"U.S.A. PATRIOT Act - The Good, the Bad, and the Sunset" winter


In February, 2005, Congressional Quarterly reported that FBI can not cope with all the information pouring in due to the additional surveillance on American citizens authorized by the Patriot Act. Clearly, the Act is being abused and, as Scarry points out, "it's [the patriot act's] assault on the personal privacy, free flow of information, and freedom of association that lie at the heart of democracy" (145), is deliberately attacking the civil liberties that we are entitled to by the Constitution of the United States. Like the Roman citizens in the time of Paul; it is time to make it clear that the citizens of the United States enjoy certain statutory rights, which in this case are guaranteed by a Constitution that defines the rules by which the federal government must live. In a time when the civil liberties of the U.S citizens are at jeopardy, one need to look no further than the words of Thomas Jefferson, "that all men are created equal", and we are entitled by our nation to "certain unalienable Rights", which are "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". He goes on to explain that in order to safeguard these rights, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed [citizens]", but, when such democracy "becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People [citizens] to alter or to abolish it" (407).

Works Cited:

"A Question of Freedom." Economist. 8th Mar. 2003 .

Jefferson, Thomas. "The Declaration of Independence." The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues

Across the Disciplines. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Podesta, John. "U.S.A. PATRIOT Act - The Good, the Bad, and the Sunset." winter


Posner, Richard A. "Security Versus Civil Liberties." The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues

Across the Disciplines. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Scarry, Elaine. "Acts of Resistance." The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues

Across the Disciplines. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

United States Congress. "The USA Patriot Act of 2001." P.L. 107-56: 26th Oct. 2001

Willams, Patricia. "To See or Not To See." The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues

Across the Disciplines. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

2003 'Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act' annual report. GPO, 4th Feb.

2004 .