Undeniably, the Patriot Act – for good or bad – has been the focus of a large amount of controversy since it was passed following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
The law – as initially designed – was meant to make it difficult for terrorist to continue harmful activities against the United States. Basically, the law gives extra powers to the intelligence officers and other law enforcement personnel – both foreign and domestic.
The provisions of the Patriot Act permit monitoring and interception of email, warrantless searches where time is of the essence, increased surveillance, the ability to conduct phone and Internet taps with less judicial scrutiny, and the ability for the Secretary of State (currently John Ashcroft) to designate foreign groups as terrorist organizations and deport suspected terrorist. The Patriot Act also allows law enforcement to detain suspected terrorist – who are not U.S. citizens – for longer periods of time without a lawyer.
The Patriot Act was designed to facilitate easier communication among law enforcement groups and less insight into searches and seizures where terrorism is involved, or even suspected of being involved. Unfortunately, the FBI and law enforcement agencies can – and occasionally do – use the Patriot Act on non-terrorist related activities. For instance, in 2003, the Patriot Act was used against a strip club in Las Vegas.
There is no question that the Patriot Act erodes some of America’s civil liberties. The question, however, is whether the American community is willing to give up certain civil liberties for the added security benefits of it. Certainly, the Patriot Act helps law enforcement crack down on terrorist activities, but often in lieu of American Civil Liberties. Is it worth it? That’s a question that you and the rest of the country may be debating for years to come. In the meantime, the U.S.A. Patriot Act comes up for renewal in 2005; whoever we vote in as President may ultimately determine the fate of the Patriot Act.