The Patriot Act and Civil Liberties
With today’s society of advanced technology, it has become imperative for the United States to develop new laws to keep up with emerging threats and to combat illegal activities within the country as well as abroad. Without the ability to monitor communications and information, the War on Terrorism becomes an unsymmetrical battle that is detrimental to the American way of life. Devoid of such significant laws, federal authorities would be at a disadvantage to terrorists as well as criminals. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act) has helped turn the tables in the War on Terrorism and is essential to the defense of the United States.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, it was apparent that the nation’s counterterrorism measures were not effective. These attacks established the need to better protect the country from within its own borders and casted a spotlight on government surveillance powers. Attorney General John Ashcroft advocated the need for new "tools" to hunt for potential terrorists after the attacks (Olson 2001). Within a few weeks, the United States Senate reacted by passing the USA PATRIOT Act with an almost unanimous vote; 98 members supporting the bill and only one voting against the bill. Senator Russ Feingold, the solitary vote against the USA PATRIOT Act, explained the reasons for his vote to the United States Senate:
The longstanding practice under the Fourth Amendment of serving a warrant prior to executing a search could be easily avoided in virtually every case, because the government would simply have to show that it has 'reasonable cause to believe' that providing notice 'may' 'seriously jeopardize an investigation.' This is a significant infringement on personal liberty. (2001)
Even if the act infringes on personal liberties, with the public’s distress at that time, the constitutionality of the USA PATRIOT Act was hardly contemplated nor a concern. The act began as a reaction to the horrific terrorist attacks on September 11th. It was considered a temporary solution to protect the country and it was evident by its four year expiration. Nonetheless, in the following years, United States citizens begun to questioned whether their civil liberties are being violated by the new laws and if the USA PATRIOT Act is constitutional and necessary.
Over the last ten years, the Gallup’s poll has shown a trending decline in the tolerance for the USA PATRIOT Act (Gallup 2011) since its conception. American citizens are criticizing the Act and they are becoming more protective of their civil liberties than they were immediately following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Almost half of United States citizens feel that the USA PATRIOT Act gives federal authorities unwarranted power and violates their individual privacy which is protected by the United States Constitution (Gallup 2011). Non-supporters believe that the USA PATRIOT Act infringes upon the civil liberties that are guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Enumerated in the Bill of Rights, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…" (U.S. Constitution. Amend. IV). They believe that the act grants federal authorities liberal room to work around the Bill of Rights and legally search, seize, spy and keep records on innocent citizens. This notion is misconceived. “At its core, the PATRIOT Act allows the government to gather more information about more people and to share that information among additional government agencies” (George 2005). The laws under the act permit federal authorities to surveil,...