The United States’ war against terrorism is a war that is being waged on behalf of all citizens of the world. It is a fight for freedom, liberty, peace and security not just by the United States alone but by the entire family of nations which adhere to the principles of peace among all nations. Indeed, when several individuals believing that they have a noble cause launched a coordinated and well-planned attack on the United States soil, it was not just an attack against the Americans but it was an attack against the world. Those who died were not just Americans but they were innocent citizens from different countries.
Immediately after the attack, there was a strong public clamor for the passage of a law that will protect us against similar attacks in the future. The USA Patriot Act (The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) was eventually passed in response to the public clamor for our protection and peace. However, when the law was finally passed and its final provisions were revealed, it appeared that some of the salient provisions of the law have certain consequences on the privacy, security, and liberty of Americans and non-Americans as well. The USA Patriot Act granted the federal government sweeping new powers to expand surveillance, certain financing and deport aliens in connection with terrorist activity. It seems that some of the provisions of the said law are too intrusive and constitute a threat to the civil rights of every individual, whether citizen or non-citizen.
This research paper is concerned with the issues surrounding the enactment of the USA Patriot Act. Several arguments will be propounded explaining the possible repercussions of some of the salient provisions of the USA Patriot Act on our most cherished rights and liberties.
Upon the signing of the USA Patriot Act, Pres. George W. Bush declared “Today, we take an essential step in defeating terrorism while protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans. With my signature, this law will give intelligence and law enforcement officials important new tools to fight a present danger.” (“Remarks by President Bush at Signing of USA Patriot Act of 2001.”) Bush, the number one advocate of the Patriot Act, declared that this law will provide intelligence and law enforcement official weapons and tools to fight terrorists. It will also strengthen the other government agencies in detecting and disrupt terrorist threats. Some of the advocates of the USA Patriot Act argue that it does not pose any danger to our constitutional rights and so far there is nothing to fear because there has not yet any reported act of violation of the constitutional rights.
I acknowledge and respect the sovereignty of the United States government. I also adhere to the inherent power of the state to enact laws that are necessary to protect its citizens and to secure the integrity of our national territory. It is also recognized that in the enactment of these laws, the state is vested with the power to regulate the life, liberty and the property of its people for the promotion of general welfare. It is also acknowledged that no right is absolute and free from restriction. Peace is also a desired commodity which is a desired goal of everybody.
There are however questionable provisions in the said law which may be used against us to the prejudice of our rights. A close reading of the said law should warn us of its possible repercussions against our constitutionally protected rights. I believe that in the state’s desire to promote peace and order and to end the war against terror, it has curtailed our most cherished rights which are protected and guaranteed by the US Constitution.
Section 213 of the USA Patriot Act is a questionable provision which expands the authority of the state to conduct “Sneak and Peak” Warrants without first procuring a search warrant. Also, the said law grants the state has the authority to seize the physical property and electronic communications from the suspect. It also gives the state the authority not to inform the suspect until the time when he is already about to be arrested. This provision seriously endangers our right against unreasonable searches and seizures which are protected under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. It gives the state the authority to conduct a search by entering a house, apartment or an office when the occupant was still away and he has no opportunity to question the validity of the search.
Under the Fourth Amendment, as a measure of protection on our privacy rights, the state has to first secure authority from our courts before they could conduct searches and seizures. Only after a search warrant has been issued can the state start to enter into our property and conduct its search. Any search conducted without a search warrant seriously violates the Fourth Amendment which renders the evidence obtained not admissible in court.
Section 411 of the USA Patriot Act is another questionable provision which affects our Freedom of Association. Under the said provision, it “permits detention and deportation of non-citizens who provide assistance for lawful activities of a group the government claims is a terrorist organization, even if the group has never been designated as a terrorist organization.” This seriously endangers our freedom to form and join unions and associations since this provision gives the Secretary of State the unbridled authority and discretion to determine groups that are considered as “terrorist organizations.” The repercussion of this is that those who are members of the organization which the state has branded as terrorist organizations and those who pay membership dues may be deported. Thus non-citizen members can be deported regardless whether they knew of the designation of the organization as a terrorist organization and whether the aid they provided had any relationship with the group’s terrorist activities.
Some of the provisions of the USA Patriot Act which regulate our liberties do not have the real or apparent connection with terrorism. Consider Section 217 of the said law which allows for the interception of the computer trespasser without any court order. This means that the government can now spy on and monitor the activities of any person suspected of being a computer trespasser without any order coming from the court. Also, Section 503 of the same law allows the DNA samples of terrorists and even non-terrorists convicted of any crime of violence to be taken and included in the National DNA Database. This means that even if an individual is convicted of murder, he will now be required by the state to allow the latter to get DNA samples from the convicted prisoner. The question is what has the crime of murder got to do with terrorism?
Section 203 or the Authority to Share Criminal Investigative Information allows the wide sharing of sensitive information gathered on criminal investigations by law enforcement agencies with intelligence agencies such as CIA and the NSA. Under this provision, government agencies like the CIA and the NSA are given the authority to spy on the American citizens and permanents residents of the USA to get information from them. This spying may include the interception of telephone and internet conversation. It may take place even with or without a court order and the information that may be obtained need not have any connection with any threat of terror attack or is necessary to the national defense or the security of the United States. Further, Section 203 would also permit law enforcement officers to share with the CIA, NSA, and other government agencies any information obtained from this unlawful activity. No court order is necessary to authorize the sharing of sensitive information. Further, what makes this law more dangerous is that it does not provide a limitation on the use of these recorded conversations. Some of the opponents of the Patriot Act argues that the unrestricted sharing could lead to the development of massive databases about citizens who are not the targets of criminal investigations. It is therefore very possible that a candidate for public office may soon find his private conversations with other individuals exposed to the public or an applicant for employment may soon find his private conversations out in the public and being used as the basis for his employment. The extent of the problem that we may encounter in the future is encapsulated in the recent news involving FBI’s misuse of its power to secretly obtain private information. The audit report found out that letters involving requests to get information from individuals were issued without proper authority, cited incorrect statutes, or obtained information they were not supposed to obtain. It added that 22% of the national security letters were not recorded.
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