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An Overview of the Patriot Act of the United States

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Abstract

This paper’s goal is to provide an overview of the Patriot Act in order to provide an understanding of what it does and how one can come to a proper conclusion or recommendation for the Act itself. It will focus on the origin of the Act, who was involved, why it was created, and how the public responded to it. There will also be details of the the different expired and still current titles. With the use of further research, there will be analysis of the controversies surrounding the Act as well. The conclusions and recommendations at the end of the paper discuss some ways that the Patriot Act titles, and the organizations such as the NSA, can be more honest with the public.

Introduction/Overview

The USA Patriot Act is an antiterrorism law enacted by the U.S. Congress in October 2001, at the request of President George W. Bush in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It was signed by Bush on October. 26, 2001, and is often referred to as just “The Patriot Act” (“The USA PATRIOT Act,” 2016).

The law gave new powers to the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Security Agency and other federal agencies on domestic and international surveillance of electronic communications. It also removed the legal barriers that had blocked law enforcement, intelligence and defense agencies from sharing information about potential terrorist threats and coordinating efforts to respond to them (“The USA PATRIOT Act,” 2016).

The Patriot Act contains ten titles that each contain multiple sections, many of which are currently expired. The following are all of the descriptions of the titles.

TITLE I: Enhancing domestic security against terrorism: establishes a fund for counterterrorist actions, condemn discrimination against Arab and Muslim Americans, increase funding for the FBI’s Technical Support Center, allow for military assistance in some situations involving weapons of mass destruction when requested by the United States Attorney General, expanded the National Electronic Crime Task Force, and expanded the President’s authority and abilities in case of terrorism (“How The Patriot Act Works,” 2007).

TITLE II: Enhanced surveillance procedures: grants increased powers of surveillance to various government agencies and bodies (“How The Patriot Act Works,” 2007).

TITLE III: International money laundering abatement and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001: intends to facilitate the prevention, detection and prosecution of international money laundering and the financing of terrorism (“How The Patriot Act Works,” 2007).

TITLE IV: Protecting the border: aims to prevent terrorism in the USA through immigration regulations. The provisions of the title generally increase the difficulty of entering the country for those known to have, or suspected of having, terrorist intent (“How The Patriot Act Works,” 2007).

TITLE V: Removing obstacles to investigating terrorism: allows the U.S. Attorney General to pay rewards pursuant of advertisements for assistance to the Department of Justice to combat terrorism and prevent terrorist acts (“How The Patriot Act Works,” 2007).

TITLE VI: Providing for victims of terrorism, public safety officers and their families: provides aid to the families of Public Safety Officers who were injured or killed in terrorist attacks (“How The Patriot Act Works,” 2007).

TITLE VII: Increased information sharing for critical infrastructure protection: increases the ability of U.S. law enforcement to counter terrorist activity that crosses jurisdictional boundaries (“How The Patriot Act Works,” 2007).

TITLE VIII: Strengthening the criminal laws against terrorism: alters the definitions of terrorism and establishes or re-defines rules with which to deal with it. It redefined the term “domestic terrorism” to broadly include mass destruction as well as assassination or kidnapping as a terrorist activity (“How The Patriot Act Works,” 2007).

TITLE IX: Improved intelligence: establishes requirements and priorities for foreign intelligence collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and to provide assistance to the United States Attorney General to ensure that information derived from electronic surveillance or physical searches is disseminated for efficient and effective foreign intelligence purposes (“How The Patriot Act Works,” 2007).

TITLE X: Miscellaneous: created or altered a number of miscellaneous laws that did not really fit into the any other section of the Patriot Act (“How The Patriot Act Works,” 2007).

The Patriot Act was reauthorized later by three bills. The first, the Patriot Act and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005, was passed by both houses of Congress in July of 2005. This bill reauthorized provisions of the Patriot Act and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. It created new provisions relating to the death penalty for terrorists, enhancing security at seaports, new measures to combat the financing of terrorism, new powers for the Secret Service, and a number of other various provisions. The second reauthorization act, the Patriot Act Additional Reauthorizing Amendments Act of 2006, amended the first and was passed in February of 2006. Later on, on Saturday, February 27, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation that would temporarily extend, for one year, three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act that included: authorizing court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones, allowing court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations, and permitting surveillance against a “lone wolf,” which is a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group. These provisions are the last two section of the Act to expire 2019 (Biscobing, 2016). The term lone wolf is often used on the news when describing a mass shooter who carries out the act by his or herself (Strohm, 2016). For example, the Orlando night club shooter was regarded as a lone wolf because he single handedly massacred all the victims at the nightclub. However, it was reported that he pledged his allegiance to ISIS during the time of the attack.

The Patriot Act raised concerns among critics surrounding the data privacy rights of U.S. citizens. These concerns were especially made worse in 2013, when NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked information showing that the agency was using the law to justify the collection of data regarding millions of phone calls (Szoldra, 2016). More details of the controversies will be included in the discussion and analysis section of the paper.

Most recently, the USA Freedom Act, which imposes some new limits on the collection of telecommunication metadata (a set of data that describes and gives information about other data) on U.S. citizens by American intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency (NSA) and also restores authorization for using wiretaps and tracking lone wolf terrorists, was enacted on June 2, 2015 (“USA Freedom Act Archives,” 2015).

Discussion and Analysis

As stated above, the Patriot Act has been met with quite a bit of controversy. The reaction was especially critical at the Act’s attack on the privacy of our country’s citizens. In this section of the paper, there will be a focus on the different tools that are enabled through the Act and how prominent people have reacted to the use of them.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” (“The Patriot Act – Constitution,” 2016). This is important to note considering the controversial use of National Security Letters (NSLs).

An NSL is commonly used by the FBI (the FBI Director, an Assistant Direct, and by all FBI Special Agents) and is similar to a subpoena. With the government arguing that they are constitutional, NSLs are used to collect information from companies which include credit reporting agencies, telecommunications providers, financial institutions, and travel agencies, in order to further a national security-related investigation. This is all done without the requirement of a court order. They allow the FBI, as well as other federal agencies (in certain circumstances), to demand that these companies turn over their data about their customers. This data can include banking, telephone, and internet usage information. However, it is not legal for NSLs to obtain content such as emails or telephone calls. The information that can be obtained through NSLs are only limited to records such as subscriber information or billing records. Also, the only way to issue these NSLs is to certify that the sought after records are, “relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities” (“National Security Letters,” 2014). A recent example of this would be when the FBI wanted to force Apple into tapping into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. This was met with a lot of people concerned for their information, thinking that at any time the government could decide to take over their phone or computer. Apple was praised for initially rejecting the FBI’s request to hack into the shooter’s phone, but the FBI eventually found another way into the mainframe and got into the phone themselves

The controversy goes even further due to the fact that this process is done in secret. Companies that are issued these NSLs are “gagged” from telling anyone what happened and in the last 10 years alone, it was reported that over 300,000 NSLs have been issued. 2004 being the highest year for NSLs with a total of 56,507. In the year 2000, prior to the signing of the Patriot Act, it was reported that only 8,500 were issued (“National Security Letters,” 2014). This shows that the Patriot Act, in a sense, loosened the standards of the NSLs which caused them to explode in volume. With this in mind, it’s understandable why the public would not be in favor in how the FBI treated Apple, and are mostly likely, treating other companies

One of the most prominent public figures that not only opposes the Patriot Act, but also opposes President George W. Bush in general, is documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. In his highly successful documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), Michael Moore interviewed members of congress with regards to signing the Patriot Act. Congressman Jim McDermott talked in the film about how the Patriot Act was essentially “on the shelf” and congress had all these ideas that they were waiting to use. Then the 9/11 attacks happened and they had their chance to use them. He went on to say that at that point it was the assumption of the administration that there had to be a surrender of some of our rights (Moore & Moore, 2004).

What he also found was that no one he interviewed actually read the Act itself. Asking how could anyone could pass the Act without reading it, Congressman John Conyers answered, “Sit down my son. We don’t read most of the bills. Do you really know what that would entail, if we were to read every bill that we pass?” (Moore & Moore, 2004).

Although Michael Moore has a clear agenda and bias in his films, the results are still interesting. Hearing a Congressman admit that no one reads most of the bills that are passed is quite concerning. You’d think that these men and women who are elected into Congress would have the ambition to want to read every part of, or at least a decent majority, the bills that come through. Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, you’d want the people in charge to be active in these types of things. It would make no sense to pass a bill without reading it!

The final and perhaps most controversial part of this paper would be the NSA and its connection with the Patriot Act. Before getting into the situation with Edward Snowden, let’s first take a look at what the NSA is and what it was around the time the Patriot Act was first signed.

The National Security Agency (NSA) is the intelligence organization of the United States government. It’s responsible for the global monitoring, collection, and processing of information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes. Originally created a as a unit to decipher coded communications during World War II, it officially became the NSA in 1952 under President S. Truman (“About Us – NSA,” 2016).

During the time of the Patriot Act signing, some Representatives, such as Jim Sensenbrenner, thought that the NSA was misusing its power after it was that it was accumulating a large collection of Americans’ phone data. Sensenbrenner went on by stating that the NSA had gone “far beyond” their original intent and had “overstepped its authority.” What we can conclude from reading this brief history, is that we have an agency that went too far with its abilities. It’s interesting to see how even over a decade ago there were concerns that the NSA was going too far. As we will see in the following paragraph, the NSA did in fact go too far (Roberts, 2013).

In June of 2013, Edward Snowden, from Hong Kong, revealed details of classified United States government surveillance programs that showed the NSA collected telephone records from millions of Verizon users, countless emails and internet metadata, and accessed data through Google and Facebook (Szoldra, 2016). Then, on June 21, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Snowden on two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property. Days later he flew to Russia where he was granted asylum (a person persecuted by their own country may be protected by another sovereign authority, a foreign country, or church sanctuaries) and remains in an undisclosed location there (Ray, 2016).

Edward Snowden’s leaks caused a public uproar and created a stronger distrust between the general public and the government. However, the reaction has been split with either bringing Snowden back to the U.S. as a hero, or continue to have him be charged with espionage and government theft. Either way, the public’s view of the government will be changed forever.

Conclusions or Recommendations

In conclusion, I have found this topic and assignment quite interesting. I knew of the Patriot Act prior to doing this assignment, and I also knew that Michael Moore hated it along with President George W. Bush, but never really understood what it was and why it was created. After reading about the origin of it and how it has come to the modern year, I feel as though the Act, along with the components of it, are a double edged sword. One side being that it allows the government to protect us through monitoring and sharing information to prevent and respond to terrorism. The other side being that it intrudes on people’s information and privacy. The bottom line for me would probably be that I am ok with what they’re doing because it’s better safe than sorry I suppose.

The main recommendation I would have is that while data, metadata, and other things are being collected, it would be better to have it done more professionally and not as secretly. As stated earlier about the NSLs, it’s all done in a secretive and hush hush manner. I feel as though if the NSA was just more honest and perhaps not as shady in its operations, people might be more receptive to the idea of their information being checked on, and in turn, maybe not be as critical to the Patriot Act itself. I always say that honesty is the best policy.

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