Overview of the Patriot Act

January 5, 2013

History, Information

The Patriot Act allowed law enforcement sweeping authority to monitor electronic communications with little oversight. It also allows law enforcement to engage in the use of roving wiretaps, sneak and peek warrants and other provisions. Essentially, what worries civil liberties advocates at all points along the political spectrum is that the government could be spying on any US citizen without that citizen even knowing, if the government decides that the citizen is a “suspected terrorist”.

Electronic Consequences

The government has already been caught gathering information on Internet traffic on a wide-net basis, most famously in San Francisco when a telecom employee blew the whistle on a clandestine monitoring operation by the NSA. This has led many people who have valid concerns about how much privacy they really have online. Would texting something with the words “Al Qaeda” in it result in you being monitored? Does a peaceful political organization that you belong to fit the definition of a “terrorist organization” by government standards? Would you even know if you were being spied on? Probably not.

Privacy

In reaction to the Patriot Act—and other acts, including SOPA and PIPA—many US citizens have taken measures to protect their privacy. These include using VPN connections, which encrypt all communication so that it cannot be read and so that it does not trigger filters that sort through data looking for specific keywords of other information. Proxy servers are also used to protect communication by concealing the IP address of origin, though they do nothing to actually encrypt information, in most cases.

The Patriot Act remains controversial today. Some sources say that it stopped as many as 10 terrorist plots. Others say that law enforcement already had the tools that they needed and merely used the Patriot Act as a way to get even more sweeping powers that they simply wanted, but that only constitute invasions of citizen privacy.

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