Any rational discussion of the Patriot Act has to take into account what it offers and the risks it presents. Here are some to consider.
The Patriot Act removed many of the barriers that law enforcement faced when they needed to institute surveillance on a suspected terrorist very quickly. Formerly, this was very difficult to do, particularly if one of the suspected terrorists was on US soil, which involved much greater restrictions on surveillance.
The Patriot Act also updated wiretapping laws to take into account the changing technology of the current era. The sneak and peak provisions allow law enforcement to gather intelligence without alerting a terrorist or terrorist cell that they have been found out, allowing law enforcement to intervene before the plot is actually executed but not before they have an opportunity to identify the individuals and organizations involved, and who may disappear once they know they’ve been discovered.
The Patriot Act is also cause for concern, by any rational assessment. The sweeping powers given to the government to conduct surveillance on US citizens means that there is less privacy protection than before and that there is certainly opportunity for abuse. The electronic surveillance provisions apply to suspected terrorists, but that definition is very loose and it’s easy enough for the government to label anyone as a suspected terrorist and to start gathering information on them.
The Patriot Act also allows the above-mentioned sneak and peak warrants to be used for any federal crime, including those that only amount to misdemeanors. This highly invasive type of warrant divests and individual of their right to know that they’re being investigated and allows law enforcement, essentially, to break into an individual’s home, to search their possessions and to do so without notifying the individual.
Roving wiretaps allow the government to spy on suspected terrorists no matter where they go, without having to apply for another order to spy on another location.