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The aftermath of September 11, 2001 was devastating and surreal. Many people lost their lives, their loved ones, and their hope and trust in America. They no longer saw America as the free country it once was; now America was grief stricken and weak. As rescue workers poured through the wreckage, news reporters gave their stories, and families who lost loved ones planned funerals, the United States government was getting to work on an extremely important issue. To combat terrorism and help to insure the safety and protection of the American people, Congress speedily passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, in short, the USA Patriot Act (Gorham-Oscilowski, 2008).
History of the U.S. Patriot Act
Just after the horrific attacks on the United States both Attorney General John Ashcroft and President George W. Bush spoke multiple times on the need for legislative action to protect against future terrorist attacks. Days after 9/11 Attorney General Ashcroft, revealed his plans for a massive piece of legislation that would be aimed at combatting terrorism (Domke, Graham, Coe, Lockett, Coopman, 2006). The President and Attorney General pleaded with the American people to support them in their efforts to pass the Patriot Act in Congress (Domke et al., 2006).
When the President addressed Congress on September 20, 2001, 80 million citizens watched. This was possibly the largest audience for a political event in the United States history (Domke et al., 2006). The Patriot Act was a bill meant to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, but has arguably given the government too much power (McCarthy, 2004). It was passed almost unanimously by the House with 357 for and 66 against and 98 for and only one against in the Senate ("The USA patriot", n.d.). Congress passed the Patriot Act without amendment (Sensenbrenner, 2001). It was signed into law on October 26, 2001, without committee hearings, with little debate, and with the support of both political parties (Flint, 2004). The Patriot Act is considered to be one of the most controversial and misunderstood pieces of legislation. Despite the poor reputation it gets, it is full of substance and essential to national security (McCarthy, 2004).
Before the passage of the Patriot Act, the government relied heavily on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) for any and all intelligence gathering to combat terrorism. In passing the Patriot Act, the President, Attorney General, and Congress hoped to tear down the wall between criminal law enforcement and foreign intelligence (Seamon, 2005). According to FISA, the "wall" barred communication that could be useful in prosecuting terrorists by not allowing law enforcement and intelligence agencies to exchange information (Rackow, 2002). For example, in 2002, an informant notified law enforcement agents in Oregon that a man named Jeffrey Battle was picking out schools and synagogues for a terrorist attack. Later, it was discovered that Battle was part of a group training with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Law enforcement feared that if Battle was removed and arrested, his co-conspirators would go into hiding. Thanks to the Patriot Act, the criminal investigators and the intelligence agents could share their information and delay the arrest in order to continue the investigation. As a result, Battle and six others, the "Portland 7" were arrested, charged on multiple counts of terrorism, and sentenced to between three and 18 years in prison (McCarthy, 2004).
The Justice Department maintains that their greatest priority is keeping America safe against acts of terrorism. Despite repeated tries from terrorist organizations, America has been free from an attack since September 11, 2001 ("Fact sheet", 2008).
Description of the Patriot Act
Just like most laws, the Patriot Act has many different sections. The different sections discuss in detail exactly what the Patriot Act is supposed to do, and what it cannot do ("Legal changes", n.d.).
Section 218 specifically addresses FISA. Under section 218, the government can for extended periods of time, wiretap a phone line (Seamon, 2005). This section has been the cause for uproar among people because they say it is a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure (Rackow, 2002). However, unless charges are filed against the particular party, they will never know that they were victims of surveillance by the government (Seamon, 2005). Before the Patriot Act, intelligence agents could not utilize roving wiretaps like the agents who were investigating "common" criminals could use (King & Smith, 2002). Once the Patriot Act was implemented, intelligence agents could use roving wiretaps to take down terrorists in the same way criminal agents could take down a healthcare fraud ring (McCarthy, 2004). Before the Patriot Act, the offense of gambling was grounds for a wiretap but the use of chemical weapons, terrorist financing, and the use of weapons of mass destruction were not. Prior to the Patriot Act, access to cable usage records was practically impossible to get and in one case, a cable company refused to give the name of a suspected pedophile who was distributing child pornography even though there was proof on the internet that he was abusing a young girl (McCarthy, 2004). The Patriot Act made it legal to obtain cable usage records (McCarthy, 2004).
One of the main purposes of the Patriot Act is eliminating the financial resources of terrorists. One way to do that is by tracking the terrorist assets as they move them from bank to bank (Flint, 2004). Under the Patriot Act, it is now illegal to run an unlicensed foreign money transfer business ("USA patriot act", n.d.). The Patriot Act also made the ban on providing material support to terrorist's organizations even stronger and established even stricter rules for foreign accounts located in U.S. banks ("USA patriot act", n.d.).
One tool the Patriot Act provides is for law enforcement to be able to conduct an investigation into a terrorist or their organization without tipping them off ("The USA patriot", n.d.). It gives the officers more time to identify associates and eliminate threats to the surrounding communities and individuals ("The USA patriot", n.d.). Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations to apply for a court order that requires businesses to give up their records in investigations that involve foreign intelligence and international terrorism (Sensenbrenner, 2001). For example, the government can seek out records from a hardware store or a chemical plant in order to see who has purchased materials needed for bomb making ("The USA patriot", n.d.).
Under sections 209 and 210 of the Patriot Act, the government is permitted to seize voice mails under a warrant as well as obtain subpoenas for web addresses, types of payments online and electronic communication (Sensenbrenner, 2001). The Patriot Act of 2001 also increased the penalties for anyone who commits an act of terrorism, including terrorists, a terrorist organization, or anyone who supports the acts of terrorism ("Legal changes to,").
Section 802 defines domestic terrorism as activities that are dangerous or harmful to human life and are violations of criminal laws, activities meant to intimidate or coerce a civilian, the use of intimidation or coercion to influence the policy of a government, and activities involving kidnapping, assassination, and mass destruction meant to affect the way a government conducts itself (Rackow, 2002). Anyone who knowingly houses a terrorist is committing acts of terrorism under the USA Patriot Act ("The USA patriot", n.d.). The definition of terrorism under the Patriot Act seems broad, covering topics such as protesters outside an abortion clinic who use violence against women entering the clinic to World Trade Organization protestors that throw rocks at the windows of stores that support the WTO (Rackow, 2002). More examples of terrorism include arson, the destruction of an aircraft, the use of weapons of mass destruction, bombing a government building or property, and the use of biological or chemical weapons ("The USA patriot,"). As a result of the Patriot Act, Christopher Paul pleaded guilty and was convicted of conspiring with German terrorists ("Fact sheet", 2008). He admitted to plotting to use weapons of mass destruction on Americans who were vacationing in foreign countries, against the U.S. Embassy, on military bases in Europe, and against Americans in the U.S. ("Fact sheet", 2008). The statutes of limitations were also eliminated for particular terrorist crimes, and it lengthened the statute of limitations for other terrorist crimes ("The USA patriot", n.d.).
Under the Patriot Act, it is now legal for intelligence officers, law enforcement, FBI, and federal prosecutors to share information they obtained about a terrorist organization and spies ("USA patriot act", n.d.). Now they can easily connect the dots on cases and potentially solve them faster and easier by working together and sharing their knowledge ("USA patriot act", n.d.).
Section 326 of the Patriot Act directs the Secretary to give regulations that describe minimum standards that banks and financial institutions are supposed to follow when opening up new accounts with customers (Sensenbrenner, 2001). Section 315 considers foreign corruption offenses to be money laundering crimes, and section 316 of the Patriot Act says that property owners can fight confiscation of property under a law that relates the confiscation of property to suspected terrorists (Sensenbrenner, 2001). Certain currency crimes such as smuggling bulk amounts of cash over $10,000 across U.S. borders and counterfeiting foreign and domestic currency are considered to be felonies now under the Patriot Act (Sensenbrenner, 2001).
Border patrol has always been a huge issue in the U.S. and now section 402 of the Patriot Act authorizes more money to be used to triple the number of border patrol officers along the Northern border as well as increase their monitoring technology and equipment (Sensenbrenner, 2001). Section 411 established new grounds for deportation of legal immigrants based on what the immigrant knows or should know about organizations that he or she had contact (Taylor & Black, 2004). The President under section 106, has the authority to confiscate property of a foreign person, a foreign country, or a foreign organization that he believes has aided, planned, approved, or engaged in an attack against the U.S. (Flint, 2004). Section 411 of the Patriot Act gives the Secretary of State, with approval from the Attorney General, the ability to designate terrorist organizations for the Terrorist Organization List. An organization can be placed on TEL if they commit a terrorist activity, provide support to promote terrorist activity, gather information on a potential target for terrorist activity, or plan or prepare a terrorist activity ("Terrorist Exclusion", 2009).
The Impact of the Patriot Act on Libraries
Libraries are known for their privacy and their wealth of information just at the fingertips (Drabinski, 2006). Since its beginning, the Patriot Act has been a sore topic for librarians because it broadens the ability of law enforcement to attain search warrants and it relaxes the requirements for performing those searches. Librarians consider themselves "defenders of personal privacy" and often feel they are caught in the middle of following national security and protecting the freedom of the citizens who use the library services (Taylor & Black, 2004).
After the implementation of the Patriot Act, the American Library Association embraced a motto which explains to library users that certain parts of the Patriot Act are dangerous to the privacy and rights of library users. Title II of the Patriot Act is where most librarians find fault (Taylor & Black, 2004). Title II lowers the standards for collecting information, eliminates the system of checks and balances, and allows for law enforcement officials to no longer show probably cause when requesting information from the library (Drabinski, 2006).
Under the Patriot Act, law enforcement officials can serve librarians with subpoenas, search warrants, or a National Security Letter demanding interlibrary loan requests, internet logs from computer hard drives, circulation records, log books, and even email history (Taylor & Black, 2004). This can be difficult for librarians because automated circulation systems are designed to wipe out the borrowing records as soon as the materials are returned to the library (Drabinski, 2006). Law enforcement officials could be searching for individuals who they believe are potential suspects, but usually the requests are for information that will further an ongoing investigation. If a librarian is served with a subpoena or NSL, under the Patriot Act, they must keep that request a secret. This means that they may not inform anyone, even coworkers unless it is necessary in order to fulfill the request from the law enforcement agency (Drabinski, 2006).
The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conservative Union both agree with librarian's discontent over the Patriot Act. Conservatives as well as Liberals, agree that it is an attack on civil liberties such as reading privacy and intellectual liberty (Taylor & Black, 2004). The American library profession has been continuously working on amending the Patriot Act so that there is a balance between the privacy of library users and national security (Taylor & Black, 2004).
Analysis of the USA Patriot Act
Signed on October 26, 2001, Attorney General Ashcroft began putting sections of the Patriot Act to work less than an hour after it became a law (Domke et al., 2006). With any new law comes praise and criticism. There are those who support the new law and those who will criticize its every word. The Patriot Act is no different (Eddlem, 2011).
Widespread distaste for the Patriot Act was almost immediate even though it passed through Congress without hesitation, even though the American people had approved of it before it became a law (Martorella, 2006). Many critics agreed that the government used the attacks on 9/11 to persuade the American people and Congress to pass the Patriot Act in order to give the government more leeway in conducting investigations (Flint, 2004). Former Congressman Bob Barr, chair of Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, says that certain parts of the Patriot Act are necessary but for the most part, the powers it gives the government go way too far (Albanese & Oder, 2005).
Librarians and the Patriot Act
One group not impressed by the passage of the Patriot Act is American librarians. The American Library Association defines intellectual freedom as the right to express your own ideas and the right of other people to hear them (Martorella, 2006). The ALA maintains that every person has the right to seek out information without being fearful in order to obtain an opinion. They also say that the Patriot Act violates those principles by taking away their privacy. Since privacy is such a large part of what librarians do best, it is easy to see why they dislike the Patriot Act (Martorella, 2006). Information that is produced by the government should be open to the public, but under the Patriot Act, if the government views a document as vital to national security it can be kept from the public eye. Martorella (2006) disagrees, saying that government information created with money from the public should be kept public, no matter the threat.
First and Fourth Amendments and the Patriot Act
The first amendment to the Constitution discusses free speech, the right to assemble peacefully, and freedom of the press. The Patriot Act, according to many critics infringes upon those rights by requiring the recipients of National Security Letters to keep quiet about their dealings with the government and in cases of abuse, does not allow for the recipient to come forward with their case because of non-disclosure. Critics of the Patriot Act suggest amendments that would allow for a case-by-case review of the necessity of non-disclosure so that if there were abuse, the recipient could present his or her case to Congress or the public (Gorham-Oscilowski, 2008).
The fourth amendment protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure and gives them the right to feel safe and secure in their own home, but according to some, the Patriot Act violates an individual's right to privacy in two ways. First, it failed to provide an opportunity for judicial review either before or after the NSL was issued and second, the government had been issued the NSL's without showing proper evidence of terrorism (Gorham-Oscilowski, 2008). Thomas Eddlem (2011), reports that, since the 9/11 attacks, the federal government thinks they do not need a warrant to search private properties and that under the Patriot Act, the Federal Bureau of Investigations can issue their own search warrants, without a judge's signature, as long as they are called "National Security Letters" and not search warrants.
Taking the Patriot Act Public
Critics argue that President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft used the devastating effects of 9/11 to their advantage by appealing to the hurting nation and promising to catch the terrorist who attacked the United States. The President and Attorney General both spoke passionately to Americans saying that in order to do that, the passage of the Patriot Act must take place (Domke et al., 2006). Critics believe that had the President proposed the legislation before the attacks on America, it would not have passed because Congress and America alike would have been in the right frame of mind. Instead, U.S. citizens wanted justice for the loved ones they lost and their President was promising just that. The proof was in the actual passing of the legislation in Congress, without amendments, without one committee hearing, and in just a few short weeks (King & Smith, 2002). In the weeks following the 9/11 attack, the President's approval rating rose to 90% (Domke et al., 2006).
Easier Access with the Patriot Act
The Patriot Act has arguably gone where no other policy has gone before (King & Smith, 2002). The Patriot Act grants the FBI the authority to access private information such as mental-health records, medical records, financial records, video-rental records, DNA samples, employment records, employment drug testing records, and student records. Prior to the passing of the Patriot Act, FBI agents were required to get a grand jury subpoena that was linked to a criminal investigation before they could get access to such records (King & Smith, 2002). Critics of the Patriot Act agree that