The USA Patriot Act: How does it affect libraries?

Essay by Kostaaaa August 2004

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"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety

deserve neither liberty nor safety." --Ben Franklin

The USA PATRIOT Act (the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) is described simply as a bill "to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools and for other purposes" (H.R.3162). This bill passed through the major checks and balances of our government within three days, with very little resistance. The USA PATRIOT Act was introduced to the House of Representatives on October 24, 2001 and was passed on the same day by a vote of 357 (yeas) to 66 (nays). The Senate passed the bill with an almost unanimous vote of 98 (yeas) to 1 (nays) the very next day. On October 26, 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act became a law with the signature of President Bush.

While this act has been instated with the safety of our nation in mind, the American Library Association (ALA) has become very concerned with the power it affords the government.

The bill was passed through Congress at such a fast pace that there was not enough time for amendments and "some representatives complained on the floor that they had not even had time to read the bill" (ALA #4). The Government views this law as a means to stop terrorism, while activists working for civil liberties see many parts of this act as radical, trampling on American's constitutional rights. "The Act sacrifices our freedoms in the name of national security and upsets the democratic values that define our nation by consolidating vast new powers in the executive branch of government" (Chang, p.14). Our government was founded on a system of checks...