Effects of the Patriot Act on Homeland Security

Abstract

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, security gained widespread attention. Both policymakers and citizens were convinced that taking any measures to enhance homeland security was necessary. As a result, the Patriot Act and other laws were enacted. Many years after the adoption of the Patriot Act, concerns have emerged about the merit and demerits of having the legislation. Behind this backdrop, the current paper assesses the effects of the Act on homeland security.

Introduction

Terrorism is an antagonistic issue that elicits heated debates globally. In order to dissuade people from engaging in terrorist activities, and punish perpetrators within the United States, and around the globe, the US government adopted the Patriot Act. Additionally, the authorities focused on enhancing law enforcement and investigation into terrorist acts by lowering restrictions on rule application requests bordering on searches, telephone and health records, and e-mail communication (Wong, 2007). The Act permits emergency disclosure of electronic correspondence with the aim of protecting lives by broadening the definition of terrorism to encompass domestic terrorism acts. In conjunction with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Patriot Act accords the Federal Investigation Bureau the powers to seek orders on items such as books, papers, and records for perusal in order to determine possible links with terrorism (Herman, 2011). Thus, I selected the Patriot Act because it has a significant bearing on homeland security both nationally and globally. The current analysis takes an objective evaluation of the Act in reference to enhancing security.

Analysis of Patriot Act and Homeland Security

Positive Effects

In order to understand the benefits of the Act, a critical examination is necessary. Focusing on the stated purpose of the Patriot Act demonstrates that the framers of the law were interested in deterring and punishing terrorist acts both within and outside the United States. In line with the objective, the enhancement of the law enforcement and related purposes was also sought. The "related purposes" are among the issues that have attracted widespread controversy (Brasch, 2005). The law becomes complex given that it alters many existing laws such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Money Laundering Act, Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, Money Laundering Control Act, Immigration and Nationality Act, Right to Financial Privacy Act, and Bank Secrecy Act (Van Bergen, 2003).

Many sections of the Act are necessary in the fight against terrorism. For instance, the enactment encourages and eases the law enforcement work at different levels of government. In particular, it is much easier to share information among federal agencies on a number of missions and other activities such as on the character or record of individuals seeking entry into the US. Based on a report by the US Department of Justice (2003), the Act makes the entity’s work easier because it has access to more information which is useful in developing a comprehensive picture about terrorist threats to the country. 

 

In addition, it is noted that law enforcement is one of the integral parts of the Act. I Van Bergen (2003) observed that the Act eases the enforcement of other laws such as the one on money laundering. Particularly, the provisions on freezing of assets of organizations or individuals linked to terrorism serve as an important factor in the fight against the vice. Such acts disrupt activities bordering on terrorism leading to a notable effect on the fight against security threats given that when resources are limited to terrorists and sponsors of terrorism. Limitations of this nature aid the war against terrorism significantly.

The role of communication in enhancing terrorism is well documented. In the current times, terrorists communicate via advanced systems such as emails and telephones. Such makes it difficult to find out terrorist plans without having the authority to intercept communications (Brasch, 2005). It is also noted that the law is critical in the fight as it raises the ability due to law enforcers to intercept terrorism plans by granting them the power to do so. The provision to allow enforcement officers to monitor and tap conversations is a major score on the fight against terrorism. 

Cross-border movements are also focus points in the fight against terrorism. Unregulated or loosely guarded borders facilitate the entry of terrorists into and out of countries. Consequently, paying attention to the country’s borders is an important aspect regarding extremist ideas and activities. One of the most significant contributions of the law is the increase in funding to border patrols with a view to securing the Northern part of the US (Wong, 2007). The northern border has been a problematic area in reference to terrorism. The Act aids the war by reducing the loopholes used by the criminals through the increase in funding of patrols around the border. 

It is also acknowledged that the Act awards government agencies powers regarding terrorism investigations that apply to non-terrorism acts. For example, such agencies have the authority to delay notifying suspects about possession of search warrants (Van Bergen, 2003). Such powers are available to cases involving crime-fighting tools in the possession of courts, child pornography, and drug trafficking cases. A law of this nature is thus useful in disabling terrorists/ criminals before they detect any investigation. In effect, the Act is an important tool in the war against terrorism.

The intentions of the Act were to protect the US from terrorism and related acts. Despite the prominent role of the Act, information on its application remained concealed, rendering efforts to assess its usefulness difficult. In this regard, it is acknowledged that the secretive manner in which the implementation is carried out poses a problem (Van Bergen, 2003). However, the justice department insists that the Act has allowed for notable success in the fight against terrorism. 

Initial indications by the Justice Department on the usage of the Act emerged in a sworn affidavit sent to the Judiciary House of Representatives Committee. The sitting Attorney General observed that terrorism investigations had led to the freezing of many accounts and assets across the world (US Department of Justice, 2003). Additionally, the AG reported that hundreds of suspects were identified, and tracked leading to over twenty-thousand search warrants and subpoenas being issued. 

In his reporting, the AG indicated that in 2002 alone, over one thousand international terrorists, foreign powers, and spies had been investigated under the auspices of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The department of justice also sought one hundred seventy urgent warrants from the FISA Court (US Department of Justice, 2003). Going by the existing records, such requests were three times more compared to those obtained in the previous twenty-three years. However, the department failed to indicate how many US citizens were affected.

Created in 1978, the FISA Court operates secretively with the aim of controlling the collection of foreign intelligence (US Department of Justice, 2003). Following the amendments introduced by the Patriot Act, the Court has the powers to issue secret warrants to carry investigations involving routine criminal activities as deemed necessary based on available intelligence. Additionally, the law has led o alterations in the language used. For instance, ‘the purpose’ now reads ‘a significant purpose’ (US Department of Justice, 2003). The changes accord the justice department the jurisdiction to investigate American citizens without the rigors involved in the normal court process. However, a downside of the above powers is the purported violation of individual liberties such as ‘the right to a fair hearing and trial’. In light of the above finding, attention now shifts to the negative aspects of the Act in its pursuit of enhancing homeland security.

Negative Effects

The negative aspects associated with the Patriot Act in the pursuit of security mainly rest on its effect on civil liberties. Observed bluntly, the law is a threat to individual rights on freedom. Despite the assurances given by the justice system, civil libertarians argue that USA Patriot Act unnecessarily limits the freedoms enjoyed by Americans (Brasch, 2005). It is not surprising that some towns and counties have resolved not to support the law. In addition, seven States have followed suit in suspending the Act.

Reference to the provisions of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution is informative on the civil liberties argument. In particular, the Patriot Act is against several elements of the constitution. For instance, the Act is in contravention of the First Amendment (which borders on freedom of speech and assembly), the Fourth Amendment (focuses on freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures), the Fifth Amendment (concentrates on right to due process), Sixth Amendment, and Eighth Amendment (Herman, 2011). In essence, it is evident that the Act is unconstitutional. Thus, its implementation is in violation of the will of the people. Based on this account, using the Act in the hope to secure homeland security is wrong. While appreciating the significance of protecting the country from the evils of terrorism, devising methods that are provided legally would be the right thing to do.

Taking the case of United States v. Antoine Jones is illustrative of the uncouth manner the Act restricts peoples’ liberties. Jones, the owner of a nightclub was associated with drug trafficking using a GPS tracker affixed to his car. The device was placed on the car without any warrant. Thus, at the Federal Court, it proved difficult to secure a conviction. The case ended in the Supreme Court leading to its overturning. Based on the findings of the court, increased suspects’ monitoring resulting from the Patriot Act undermined the rights of the victims directly.

Focusing on issues surrounding privacy has also attracted debates. For instance, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) deemed the law as unconstitutional the provision to intercept private communication (Van Bergen, 2003). The center indicated that such blanket provisions violated the privacy of innocent private citizens. The concern in this case rests on whether it is worth undermining the rights of individuals to privacy for purposes of security. Supporters of the laws can also point out that given the changing landscape of information technology, updating and repealing the law was necessary. The Patriot Act’s allowance for nationwide searches also remains controversial.

Despite the assertion by some observers, the Justice Department is yet to prove the components of the Act that are critical or necessary in the war against terrorism (Van Bergen, 2003). However, the department has often claimed that the Act has contributed to the neutralization of terrorist cells such as those in Detroit, Seattle, Buffalo and Portland. In addition, the department claims that it has orchestrated two hundred fifty-five criminal charges leading to one hundred thirty-two convictions. Additionally, law enforcers have managed to arrest suspects involved in both planning and funding terrorist activities. However, the US Department of Justice (2003) failed to demonstrate how the Patriot Act contributed directly. However, the department continues to argue that the US’s ability to prevent large-scale attacks on the country lies in the implementation of the Act.

One of the most questionable provisions of the Act rests on the powers accorded state agencies to access, library, financial, educational, medical and personal records in so far as "a significant purpose" for collecting foreign intelligence exists (Herman, 2011). At the same time, the law prohibits business and library owners and employees from alerting people that the authorities have sought records. Such measures amount to violation of personal rights.

The fact that government agents have the power to tap phone conversations among citizens as well as monitor their internet usage and track communications open a window for a high degree of interference in personal lives. Moreover, the Justice Department can allow the police to enter citizens’ homes, and seize property or items without necessarily informing them that they are conducting a search. Law enforcers have powers to spy on political and religious entities as well as on individuals without a shred of evidence on criminal involvement. The implication of the above findings is that citizens can be detained without their consent, and denied access to attorneys on the strength of secret evidence. Hence, it is apparent that the law violates individuals’ liberties. 

Additionally, American citizens can be labeled terrorists in an event that they engage in criminal activities that endanger others. The government can also use the law to intimidate people. The application of coercion is a negative attribute within any democracy. Hence, not even citing homeland security is a justifiable excuse to intimidate and coerce citizens.

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Whenever criticisms are raised against the Act, the Justice Department insists that it does not alter the law given that the First Amendment criminalizes playing a role in another person’s injury (Brasch, 2005). The implication is that in an event where a police officer is injured while attempting to prevent a protester from entering a government premise to agitate for change in policy, that person would be labeled a domestic terrorist.

One other negative aspect of the Act is the nature of its passing/ enactment. It is noted that the Act sailed through because of opportunistic circumstances. Following the September 11 attacks against the US, people and policymakers united in supporting the law. Thus, the environment was not supportive of a holistic approach to deliberations on the security issue. Given the above view, the flaws raised are valid given that some provisions of the Act violate the Constitution.

Conclusion

After the passing of the Patriot Act, some realities became clear. Some of the emerging issues demonstrate that claims by the Justice Department that the law is not threatening civil liberties are flawed. Many cases abound regarding the application of the Act in investigations based on allegations of American citizens’ engagement in terrorism. The department continues to work with the FISA Court on investigating Americans in instances where the regular courts cannot grant warrants.

Naysayers opine that although the law was well-intended, its effects are unfathomable in certain instances. Its role in limiting individual liberties seems to be the biggest negative aspect of the Act. There is increasing concern that the law threatens civil freedoms unnecessarily. This explains why the Act has faced widespread rejection across a number of counties and states. 

In conclusion, it is discernable that the law contributes to improving homeland security in a number of ways. For instance, the Act closes loopholes in the ability of the US system to investigate terrorist activities. Secondly, the law reinforces or updates existing anti-terrorism laws so that they meet emerging needs such as the threat posed by technological advancement. Thirdly, the Act allows the State to establish an extensive team tasked with the responsibility of collecting and sharing information concerning terrorism.

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Jul 10, 2019 in Communications
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