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After the traumatizing attacks on September 11, 2001, on the world trade center, the government through the Department of Justice discovered strategy for legal procedures aimed at providing the government security agencies with far-reaching investigative powers to thwart and guard against terrorist actions. On October 26, 2001, President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act. The act came into force from that day. Along with other provisions, this legislation gave national agencies the capability to keep in custody non-citizens, enhance wiretaps, initiate technological surveillance, and step up the scrutiny of student visas. The USA PATRIOT Act is said to be controversial with the constitution. Those citizens supporting the Act assert that the new provisions present the tools necessary for the fight against terrorism to the agencies. On the other hand, those who oppose the USA PATRIOT Act assert that the Act continues to violate individual civil rights and liberties through its provisions in what they term national security. Various documentations such as journals, newspaper articles, just to mention part a few, maintains that those for and against the Act have valid view points. These different viewpoints form the subject matter for discussion in this paper.
The paper sets out to examine, explain and analyze the advantages and disadvantages of the USA PATRIOT Act. The paper will make an effort of finding documentation that tries to highlight the various pros and cons. The catastrophic events of the terrorism attacks on September 11, 2001 lead to many deaths and trauma of American people. After all what happened sixty percent of Americans according to a poll taken by a Los Angeles Times on September 13 and 14 was willing to give up all that they treasured most including their liberties in the fight against terrorism (D'Estree and Busby, 2001). This was also expressed through their full support of the USA Patriot Act both in the congress and through public opinion.
The Patriot Act came at a point in time when America as a country and its people had nearly no choice to make in relation to terrorists activities and the only way to secure the nation was through new legislation even if definite rights were truncated (Center for American Progress, 2005). The government had to take swift and firm actions against terrorism. One of these actions was the authorization of the Patriot Act.
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The USA Patriot Act stems from the acronym USA PATRIOT Act. It was signed into law immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks by terrorist on the world trade center. The terrorist attacks created fear among the American people since they thought that their lives were at risk. The Act was written with provisions or sections of law that cease to exist after some time called sunset provisions. For this case particular provisions such as those concerning surveillance were set to expire after four years of use in real world conditions. Before the extension of the expiry time for another three months till March 10, 2006 the act was facing a lot of legal challenges. In April 2005 opinion polls indicated that 45% of the American people believed that the Act goes too far and 49% believed that it was okay. Congressional democrats used the issue in 2005 to air their concerns in regard to the situations at Guantanamo Bay and other issues surrounding the war against terrorism. American Civil Liberties Union continues to challenge the Act claiming that still the lives of Americans are at risk. This comes after a compromise was reached before the bill was signed in March 9, 2006 to limit governments' powers. The enactment of the Act has brought benefits and costs to the nation as stipulated by the following advantages and disadvantages (Powers, 2005).
Advantages of the Patriot Act
Section 203 of the Patriot Act facilitates the sharing of investigative criminal information among the domestic law enforcers and foreign intelligence. It does away with the prevailing legal barriers that prevented different agencies such as intelligence, federal prosecutors and police officers from coordinating and talking. This ensures that information are shared and communicated between various agencies working together to look into terrorist activities. This will provide easier and less burdensome means of inquiry and surveillance. In this case domestic law enforcers will observe the behaviors of those individuals living near their stations. This information can be shared with the foreign intelligence observers making it easier for the investigation to be carried on. The previous procedures of disclosure are blamed to be the reason why the Central Intelligence Agency did not share information with the Federal Bureau of Investigations agents concerning the hijackers (Abramson and Godoy, 2006).
The Patriot Act Title VI raises concerns about the victims and families of victims of terrorism. To facilitate this it provides for the amendments of Victims of Crime Act (1984). This allowed for changes on how to manage and fund Victims of Crime Fund. With the changes there is speed in the provision of aid. Payments for officers killed in the line of duty must be done not later than 30 days. It also provides for increased money in the fund and changed the way of distributing the money to victims of terrorism or mass violence and their dear families. The fund also may be used to rebuild businesses as well as infrastructure that are destroyed by terrorism.
The Americas former president George W. Bush did mentioned the following concerning the Patriot Act that when its time to reauthorize the act, he feels that the American citizens still need protection. Bush talked of the enemy still existing and looking at America. He hoped that the congress should understand their situation of still at war and provide them with the necessary tools to fight (Bumiller, 2006). According to US former President, the protection of the American people still rest in the reauthorization of the Act. The Act is justified as the panacea to America's peace and liberty.
According to the attorney general Ashcroft, 2005 Patriot Act in its sections clearly spells out the context of material support. This concerns the financial support given to groups and organizations of crimes and mass violence. Prior to the catastrophic attack law enforcement had minimal legal procedures to investigate and arrest those perpetuating terrorism. This was because the laws concerning terrorist funding were limited and unclear. With more that fifty defendants facing charges of financial support between September 11, 2001 and May 5, 2004 it has proved that the Act is of great importance.
Section 206 Roving Wiretaps: seeks to intensify and explain the law deliberated to aid trial and investigation of alleged terrorists. For instance, wiretap orders could be acquired to follow the suspect unlike preceding law which requisite a new order for each phone or computer used by the suspected person. Again the section provides the intelligence agencies with unnoticeable way of installing the connection of the suspect in its neighborhood or telephone of his or her relative. The prominence is for the government to monitor the telephone without the consent of the owner. This makes it certain that should a different attack be intended, the government would have the command to thwart it from being accomplished (Paye, 2006).
Section 213 provides authorities with authorization to search individual homes or businesses with no prior notice given to the owner. The search involves taking photos, examining computer hard wares and installing a device that will record all the tasks called Magic Lantern. This search is normally done in the absence of the owner to ensure that the investigation is not jeopardized. (Paye 2006).
Disadvantages of the Patriot Act
One disadvantage of the Patriot Act is that it tends to violate the amendments in the constitution. The Americans believe the constitution to be the foundation of their rights and freedom. The government is becoming suspicious of its citizens such that they had to set up surveillance in form of a Patriot Act for its public (Gerdes, 2005). The act seems to make the Americans fugitive in their own country.
The other disadvantage concerns the issue of individual rights and liberty. The Act tends to violate Amendment IV of the bill of rights which among others concerns the right against unreasonable seizures and searches. The Act does allow the investigating agencies to seize and search individual records and effects to assist in terror investigation without any apparent reason. The Act also negates the freedom of speech where the state can prosecute librarians concerning their actions of informing anyone on government search of information relating to terrorism.
The privacy of Americans is also put in jeopardy through the Total Information Awareness. This is a system that is created to track information on every person in the country right from group affiliations, credit card purchases, cell phone records, library book check outs and gun ownership. All these slowly take away both the privacy and rights of the Americans.
The National League of cities (NLC) has criticized the Act based on the additional funding that have generated after the inception of the Act. According to (Gerdes, 2005) municipal governments across the country are facing a budget constrain due to the creation of extra agencies and additional employees. This constitute to additional mandates which are not funded on municipals' libraries, police departments among others.
A lot of people consider that the PATRIOT Act has turn life to be more complicated for Muslims and those individuals who originated from the Middle East residing in the United States. Critics of the Patriot Act refer to particular abuses and issues which they feel the state has overstretched in their search of those individuals associated with terrorist activities. Example of such case is that of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen. Mr. Omar was pursuing a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph. D) course at the University of Idaho; he was a Saudi Arabia national who was studying computer science and had lived in the United States for nine years. In the month of February the year 2003, the Federal Bureau of Investigations forced entry to his home. He was later charged with different counts including those of terrorism, making false statements and visa fraud. Mr. Omar was raided on the basis of rendering expertise services to the Islamic Assembly of Northern America. The expert service was designing the website for the Assembly which the state claims to be promoting far-reaching Islamic ideology. The provisions under the USA Patriot Act prohibit any individual from offering any specialist service or support to foreign terrorist organizations or groups. After one year Mr. Omar was accused by the government to be linked to the terrorist groups on the basis of the computer records. Even though Mr. Omar's attorneys argued that the provision was against the amendment I of his client. Mr. Omar was later found not guilty in the year 2004 (Weigel, 2005).
The Patriot Act has also been criticized for being, too thorough. The Act provisions equip the state agencies with far-reaching power to keep an eye on the personal way of life for every one including those suspected terrorists, those residing in the United States and those citizens of United States living abroad.
The inception of the Patriot Act leads to the establishment of a detainee camp in Guantanamo Bay in the year 2002. This move placed life of many Americana in a terrifying situation because if suspected even with no substantive evidence leads to detention in the camp without any fair judgment for unspecified length of time. This was the worst part of the Act.
The provisions of the Act that granted the government with a lot of powers still threaten the lives of many Americans because they do not understand up to now how well the government is exercising those powers. The most controversial provision that gives the government agencies unprecedented monitoring of particularly library records generates fear among the people in that the materials that they read can amount to terrorism accusation and later confinement at Guantanamo Bay..
President Bush's remarks during his regular addresses were marred with calls for action. He was quoted for saying from his speech of November 6, the year 2001"You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror." Though the quote was part of a speech meant to persuade the United Nations to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans saw the inferences on a personal level. The people began to worry about the speech they make public because their freedom of speech was eroding slowly by slowly.
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Other critics argue that discriminating observation activities and absence of accountability for the raid of privacy were in opposition to the basic doctrines of freedom championed by the United States and defended by the Constitution. The presence of Article 505 National Security Letters in Section 215 makes it to be controversial. The provision increases the chances for the governmental agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigations of getting the National Security Letters. This kind of letters falls under administrative subpoena that grant agencies access data from medical and financial as well as from traveling agencies, library records, automobiles, casinos, rental agencies among others. The Bush administration unwaveringly refused to include an article in the provisions to allow for the challenging of the government agents by either priests, lawyers just to mention but a few of getting confidential communications from patients or clients among others. The Federal Bureau of investigations maintains that the National Security Letters has enabled them to collect information of citizens who are free from any wrong doing. Lots of the letters are used now days as compared to the historic days (Boykoff, 2006). According to a report produced by the Inspector General of the Department of justice on March 2007, the number of letters that have been issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigations is approximately thirty thousand letters per year. Report also noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been acting contrarily by using the letters improperly and illegally (Liptak, 2007).
Terrorism is defined by the Defense Department of United States as any calculated exercise of or unlawful application of force or violent behavior with the intend of inculcating fear among persons, coercion and terrorization on governments and destruction of property. This violent behavior or intimidations are aimed at fulfilling certain goals among others religious, political or ideological (Chomsky, 2003). Safety and liberty are to things that are mutually exclusive. This means that one cannot be gained through forfeiture of the other. The United States Constitution has in the past survived threats that included world wars and civil revolutions. It's during these times of emergency that the rights and liberties of the people must be strongly defended. The guarantee by the government of the Constitutional rights and liberties should not dispossess the government of the power required to strongly apprehend those pursuing terrorism, act against them and protect their homeland.
Bush administration actions of disrespecting the rule of law lead to the compromise of America's credibility by other nations. Bush administration through the canon of preventive war that accords the right to use military measures at will to have power over and devastate any challenge it identifies let to the launch of "War on Terror," (Chomsky, 2003).
Many a times in the history of America we have witnessed political leaders drumming for and justifying the suspension of people's liberties for the sake of national security. As once noted by Benjamin Franklin, it is impossible to give away liberty for the sake of security (Thornburgh 2005). In order to gain credibility from other nations, the government should abide by all the international accords including the Geneva Conventions among others. For instance, the principle of universality maintains that when an action is wrong or right for one it is also right or wrong for the others. When we and nations apply double standards for itself and none for the others it cannot be respect on issues concerning right or wrong. The American government can only get international assistance in the war against terrorism if it can respect and obey the rule of law (Chomsky, 2002).
The signing of the Reauthorization Act on March 9, 2006 made some of the sunset provisions to be permanent measures in the Act. The new Act therein gives authority on imprisonment suspected terrorists for unclear period of time without any trial or accusation. It also provides for extensive surveillance of every American citizen either residing in or abroad. Normally the government actions should be checked but some of the provisions in the Act were left unchecked for instance article 505 on Section 215 on National Security Letters among others. The government and its official should be accountable to its people and its measures should be tailored at championing civil rights and liberties and ensuring security other than threatening them. Unfortunately the war against terror has not dealt with terrorist but it has divided the cronies (Paye, 2006).