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What is the Patriot Act?
"Background, The Patriot Act"
Guide for Civil Liberties
Andrew Somers

The Issue: The USA PATRIOT ACT (an acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism") of 2001 is 131 pages of legislation that expand the powers and rights of law enforcement. These expansions include roving wire taps and more access to the records of your internet service provider (ISP).

It also includes expansions to FISA - the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This is an existing act that allows foreign governments to spy on Americans or foreign persons in the US. The expanded clauses allow skirting around US domestic surveillance limitations. For instance, obtaining a FISA wiretap against a US person where "probable cause" does not exist, but when the person is suspected to be an agent of a foreign government. The information can then be shared with the FBI, who were unable to wire tap without a court sanctioned warrant.

"Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003," also known as "Patriot Act II" is not yet law, but promised to go even further, allowing the government in some cases to conduct warrantless searches and wiretaps. It also allows for secret access to credit reports without consent, sampling your DNA without consent, looking into your book buying and library records without consent, and even includes provisions to strip even native born Americans of their citizenship if they are suspected of being linked to an organization the government has labeled as "terrorist".

The History: On September 11, 2001, Terrorists killed over 2800 people when they hijacked 4 aircraft and used them to destroy the World Trade Center in New York City, and a section of the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

The nation was shaken to the core, and the first legislative proposals surfaced in the Senate just 2 days later (the Combatting Terrorism Act of 2001).

Sept 19th brought the administration's draft bill, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001.

On October 2nd, House bill 2975, the "PATRIOT ACT" was introduced, then on October 5th Senate bill 1510, the "USA" act was introduced.

House and senate leaders work to resolve the differences between HR2975 and S1510. On October 25th the final bill, HR 3162, the "USA PATRIOT ACT" passed. It was signed into law by President G.W.Bush on October 26th.

Patriot Act II: On January 10, 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft sent around a draft of "The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003." This document was subsequently leaked.

The Case For the Patriot Acts: The Attorney General (John Ashcroft) and others in law enforcement claim that the Patriot Acts are necessary to allow them to interdict terrorist organizations.

They claim that this legislation will only be used to go after terrorists.

The Case Against the Patriot Acts: Most civil libertarians are appalled with the provisions in the Patriot Acts, and especially Patriot II. They claim that the expansion of police powers and the reduction of personal privacy will not make us any safer from terrorists - it will only allow the government to interfere with our legitimate lives.

They point to the several thousand people who have been placed in custody (jail) without the benefit of a lawyer, or even access to family members - even though no criminal charges are filed against them. They claim that such injustice is proof that the Patriot Acts give the government far too much power and woefully inadequate oversight.

They also claim that the Patriot Acts are chilling similar to the laws passed down in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.

Current Status: Patriot Act I is law, Patriot Act II is still a draft bill, and other proposed programs, such as TIA (Terrorist Information Awareness) are making the rounds of capitol hill.

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