USA PATRIOT Act
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The USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001 by George W. Bush. It is a backronym for the: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.
The act was hurriedly passed within two months of the 2001 attacks on the World trade Center and gave US law enforcement authorities remarkable increased powers — apparently to help them in the War on Terror. Presumably, most of these two months were spent trying to work out a suitable backronym for USA PATRIOT.
- Increased the ability of law enforcement agencies to search telephone and e-mail communications and medical, financial, and other records.
- Reduced the restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States.
- Expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities.
- Enhanced the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts.
- Expanded the definition of terrorism to include "domestic terrorism," - thus increasing the number of activities to which the Patriot Act’s expanded law enforcement powers could be applied.
- Expanded the amount of information banks are required to keep on customers. (Mostly, this means making sure customers are who they say they are.)
Because of the sentiment which existed in the US at the time it was passed by wide margins by both houses of Congress — but it clearly reduced the liberties of US citizens and consequently, it has been the subject of numerous legal challenges. Federal courts have ruled that a number of its provisions are unconstitutional.
Only one person, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), voted against the bill in the Senate; 66 people voted against it in the House of Representatives, 94% of them Democrats. The House voted for the 2011 extension again along party lines, with 64% of Democrats and only 13% of Republicans in opposition.
If, as President Bush stated repeatedly at the time, the terrorists hate our freedoms, then in large measure they've won, because we voluntarily gave up a lot of those freedoms through this Act.
An abstract of public discussion and debate on the PATRIOT Act prior to passage
GOVERNMENT: Wow. 9/11 really caught us with our pants down. We need to ensure that doesn't happen again.
THE PUBLIC: I guess so. What did you have in mind?
GOV: Well, take phone tap warrants. Warrants are specific to the phone line, not the person. A suspect can change cell phones daily and a new warrant is needed for each one. We need to make warrants specified to the individual, so every phone they obtain is subject to the warrant once it's issued.
PUB: Well, that makes sense. Laws should keep up with changing technology, and it is the person rather than the phone under investigation. What else?
GOV: Um. Well, that's about it, really…
- Four More Years: PATRIOT Provisions Renewed Center for Democracy &Technology
- On Passage of the Bill (H.R. 3162), U.S. Senate
- Final Vote Results For Roll Call 398, Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives