The terrorist attacks that took place on September 11th, 2001 greatly affected the social and political culture in the United States. Afterwards, the American government took steps to attempt to ensure that an attack of that magnitude never happened again. Citizens were asked to give up certain civil liberties in order to ensure the overall security of the nation. Congress passed a piece of legislation that greatly changed the relationship between those two things. The enforcement of the USA Patriot Act has become one of the most controversial topics in the new millennium. The Patriot Act has gone too far in its attempt to protect this nation from an overhyped terrorist threat. This supposed terrorist threat should not force Americans to give up our rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution.
Two key players have arisen in the debate over this issue: the government and the American Civil Liberties Union. According to the ACLU, the act “Expands the ability of law enforcement to conduct secret searches, gives them wide powers of phone and Internet surveillance, and access to highly personal medical, financial, mental health, and student records with minimal judicial oversight. (ACLU 1)” The major problem with this is that the Patriot Act allows the government to conduct these searches if they consider it to be for intelligence purposes against terrorism. The act purposely leaves the definition of “terrorist” and intelligence loose. This means that the government can do all those things that the ACLU lists, to everyday citizens.
According to ACLU estimates, the number of people on government terrorist watch lists currently exceeds one million. The Patriot Act has caused the government to pry into the lives of many citizens who by all practical accounts are so far from being terrorists that it is an absurdity to place them on these lists. These people have been placed on airport lists that have caused them great delays to fly and in some cases prevented them from traveling at all. The name Robert Johnson appears on one government watch list. 60 Minutes interviewed 12 different men with this name who all reported being pulled aside at airports and interrogated at times for hours. Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela and Senator Ted Kennedy have both appeared on terrorist watch lists. (ACLU2 1) These people are clearly not terrorists, so the system of investigating suspected terrorists under the Patriot Act is flawed. Some Americans say that if a citizen has nothing to hide, then he/she should willingly give up some of their freedoms to protect the country as a whole. However, one of our Founding Fathers, Ben Franklin said, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” (Data Sheet)
One of the most controversial aspects of the act is the new powers that it gives the government in the field of communication surveillance. According to the Department of Justice, the government did not have the necessary authority to use surveillance techniques to investigate all possible crimes of terrorism. The key way that they do this is through the use of wiretaps obtained through special warrants. By allowing the federal government to obtain “delayed” warrants to wiretap suspected terrorists, the Act allowed them to conduct investigations without tipping off the terrorists who possibly could destroy evidence or flee before they were apprehended. (Department of Justice 1) However, there is no reliable way for the government to prove that these wiretaps are necessary to effectively track terrorist activities. Our Constitution states that you must have probable cause to conduct a search or seizure on a person. The government is breaking the supreme law of this land every time they listen in on a phone call without a warrant. It is not fair for the government to ask its citizens to obey the Constitution, when they cannot do it themselves. As the cartoon of George Bush cutting up the Bill of Rights shows, the Patriot Act is destroying the very foundations upon which our government was built. Bush basically sent a message to America, by helping create the Patriot Act, that he was above the Bill of Rights. (Data Sheet)
The federal government has overstepped their bounds by creating the Patriot Act. They have infringed upon our civil liberties and invaded the privacy of thousands of people. They have used loose definitions of terrorism to illegally conduct searches and wiretaps. They have broken laws laid out by the Constitution. The Patriot Act is an illegal and ineffective piece of legislation and should be completely abolished.
American Civil Liberties Union. "The USA Patriot Act and Government Actions that Threaten Our Civil Liberties." 14 Nov. 2008 .
American Civil Liberties Union2. "ACLU Watch List Counter." 14 Nov. 2008 .
Department of Justice. The USA Patriot Act: Preserving Life and Liberty." 14 Nov. 2008 .