USA Patriot Act

A Guide to the Patriot Act

Designed as a measure in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the USA Patriot Act was passed by the US Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. USA Patriot Act is an acronym that refers to the longer title of the law itself: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.

The USA Patriot Act reduced restrictions on intelligence gathering by law enforcement agencies in the United States. Under the guidelines of the Patriot Act, law enforcement agencies were given broader authority to detain and deport immigrants suspected of activities related terrorism.

Restrictions were reduced on gathering intelligence through surveillance activities – such as phone tapping – in order to make it easier to identify and apprehend suspected terrorists. The US Patriot Act also expanded the ability of the Treasury Department to regulate financial transactions involving individuals and organizations originating from outside the country. Finally, the Patriot Act expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism – opening the door for the FBI and other domestic law enforcement agencies to expand their authority to encompass a broader range of activities.

Critics of the US Patriot Act said it encroached upon many basic civil liberties and fought against Patriot Act renewal in 2005. Amid opposition, USA Patriot Act was reauthorized in 2005 through the passage of three different bills. These bills reauthorized several measures from the original act. The new bills also included new provisions on enhancing airport security, combating terrorist financing and the application of the death penalty to terrorists.

The Patriot Act remains a part of US law more than a decade after its initial passage. President Barack Obama signed another Patriot Act renewal in 2011. The latest renewal extended several provisions. Among these provisions are allowing court-approved wiretaps on multiple phones at once, confiscation of personal records and property in anti-terrorism raids and surveillance on non-US citizens engaged in alleged terrorist activities regardless of if they have ties to a known or suspected terrorist group.

Throughout its history the USA Patriot Act has fueled a debate between how far the government has a right to go in the name of protecting national security. Supporters of the act say it has helped bring down suspected terrorists and foil terrorist plots. Opponents say the act is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right to privacy held by American citizens. The debate is likely to continue as long as the act remains in force.