USA Patriot Act

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George Bush and his administration devised legislation now known as the Patriot Act (or USA Patriot Act). The Patriot Act was intended to thwart future terrorist attacks, through identification and punishment of its perpetrators. “USA Patriot Act” is an acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.”

The proposed legislation was submitted to Congress just one week after the attacks, and quickly gained approval in both houses. It passed in the Senate without debate; Russell Feingold (D-WI) was the lone vote against the measure. Feingold said, “Preserving our freedom is one of the main reasons that we are now engaged in this new war on terrorism. We will lose that war without firing a shot if we sacrifice the liberties of the American people.” In the House of Representatives, the legislation passed 357 to 66, after receiving minor modifications. The president signed the 342-page bill into law on October 26, 2001. When he signed it, he said, “We’re dealing with terrorists who operate by highly sophisticated methods and technologies, some of which were not even available when our existing laws were written. The bill before me takes account of the new realities and dangers posed by modern terrorists.”

Congress declared its commitment to protecting Americans’ civil rights and civil liberties in the “quest to identify, locate, and bring to justice the perpetrators and sponsors of the terrorist attacks,” but the Patriot Act has sparked fierce debate. Proponents say the act enhances national security. Opponents, including the ACLU, contend the Patriot Act severely undercuts basic civil liberties. The ACLU has charged that the Patriot Act “vastly expand[s] the government’s authority to spy on its own citizens, while simultaneously reducing checks and balances on those powers like judicial oversight, public accountability, and the ability to challenge government searches in court.” Many other groups have criticized the act as well. For example, according to the National League of Cities, by mid-2005 more than 2,000 communities had passed resolutions expressing concern with civil liberties issues in the Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act’s stated purpose is “to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes.” The act is comprised of the ten categories, called titles:

  • Title I: Enhancing domestic security against terrorism
  • Title II: Enhancing surveillance procedures
  • Title III: Abatement of international money laundering
  • Title IV: Protecting the borders
  • Title V: Removal of obstacles to investigate terrorism
  • Title VI: Providing for victims of terrorism, public safety officers, and their families
  • Title VII: Increased information sharing
  • Title VIII: Strengthening criminal laws against terrorism
  • Title IX: Improved intelligence
  • Title X: Miscellaneous provisions

According to the Department of Justice’s website devoted to the Patriot Act, the following successes can be attributed, wholly or in part, to the Patriot Act:

  • Intelligence and law enforcement communities, both in the U.S. and abroad, have identified and disrupted over 150 terrorist threats and cells
  • Nearly two-thirds of al Qaida’s known senior leadership has been captured or killed
  • Worldwide, more than 3,000 operatives have been incapacitated
  • Five terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), and Northern Virginia were broken up
  • Terrorism-related investigations has resulted in criminal charges against 401 individuals
  • 212 individuals have been convicted or have pleaded guilty in the United States, including shoe-bomber Richard Reid and John Walker Lindh
  • More than 515 individuals linked to the September 11th investigation have been removed from the United States

Inside USA Patriot Act