The USA Patriot Act is the acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism and signed into law by then President George W. Bush in 2001. This Act came to be following the attacks in New York and the Pentagon which claimed lives of victims and forever changed the history of America.
Five years ago, President Barrack Obama extended the three key provisions that were included in the Patriot Act by singing the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011. These are surveillance done on lone wolves or people who are suspected to join terrorist-related activities but not acting with terrorist groups, roving wire taps and business record searches. Some parts of the USA Patriot Act have been changed such as mass data collection. Despite the good intentions of the existence of this act, it definitely had negative impacts as well. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the Patriot Act.
List of Advantages of the Patriot Act
1. Strengthens National Security.
Since the devastating 911 terrorist attacks and the 2001 anthrax attacks, America and the whole world has never been the same again. With the enactment of the USA Patriot Act, many suspected terrorists were intercepted, more convictions were recorded and stringent policies have been created to ensure these attacks will not ever happen again. Apart from stricter regulations, surveillance processes were streamlined, making it difficult if not impossible for acts of terrorism to succeed. This policy has widened the authority of the government in ensuring national security and people have started to sleep better at night, so to speak. This act brought back the feeling of security to citizens one way or the other.
2. Easy Terrorist Identification.
Since the Patriot Act, government agencies such as the FBI was given the green light to act and tap phones that are suspected to be used by terrorists and lone wolves without having to go under strict policies such as having to ask for individual requests. With the USA Patriot Act, the government came up with a streamlined surveillance system which made it easier for the authorities to intercept and send terrorists to justice. Moreover, there was a great improvement in the communications within agencies, making them capable of addressing problems and acting on issues related to terrorism.
3. Victim Support.
One of the provisions of the Patriot Act is the opportunity for grandparents to apply for special immigrant status in order to take care of the children orphaned as a result of terrorism. These were the children whose parents were victims of the September 2001 attack of the World Trade Center which claimed innocent lives and affected the lives of survivors and their families. Without the Act, support and aid to the victims and their families might not be given that much attention or be organized. Moreover, business owners who had establishments in the vicinity of the WTC were given financial support to rebuild structures.
4. Updates Law on Technology and Threats.
Part of the Patriot Act includes allowing victims of computer hackers to request for law enforcement assistance to track down hackers. This has given an equal footing between victims of physical trespassers and digital trespassers. Also, law enforcers can now request for surveillance from any district unlike before when this was not possible and it was harder for the authorities to act on potential threats without violating protocol.
List of Disadvantages of the Patriot Act
1. Privacy Invasion.
If there is one major issue about the enactment of the Act is the concern of the citizens that they have never felt their privacy invaded until the Patriot Act. This has led to data mining, where personal information was collected without the knowledge of unsuspecting individuals. Although this Act was mainly signed to combat terrorism, the fact still remains that this has jeopardized personal freedom and has left citizens uncomfortable. According to critics, some federal agents can abuse this authority and simply collect information or accuse anyone of terrorism based on guesses.
Another flaw of the Act is the provision on immigration where immigrants who are suspected of terrorism can be held and detained indefinitely. Worse, they are not entitled to trials to prove their innocence. In effect, if an immigrant is suspected of terrorism and the country he or she comes from refuses to take this person in, the United States government can detain this individual for as long as it wants. Also, this has given power to the Attorney General to decide on the fate of immigrants.
3. First Amendment Violation.
The USA Patriot Act, according to critics, has kept the citizens to enjoying freedom of speech and expression, whether in public or on paper. This has also earned the ire of some librarians because the Act includes a provision that permits the FBI to order for the production of publications it believes can be used in the investigations. The access to too much personal information of federal agents and the way they conduct their surveillances are unconstitutional.
4. Racial Profiling.
Another disadvantage of the Act is the possibility of racial profiling because almost anybody suspected to be a terrorist can be selected from the rest and most of these are immigrants and tourists coming from countries that are suspected to have terrorists. This can be traumatic for some visitors and immigrants who just want to experience what it is to be in the land of opportunity. Also, this controversial act has put some unsuspecting tourists to shame when they are asked to step aside as they go through immigration. The Act somehow puts this practice in the spotlight.
It cannot be denied that the Patriot Act has strengthened national security but it also has invaded the privacy of Americans. This has also allowed the government to obtain extensive personal information which can sometimes be illogical and too much. It is said to protect constitutional rights yet the government can obtain information of people whenever they want. Whether the advantages of the Act outweigh the disadvantages, what is more important is for some reforms to be made to ensure Americans are protected.
Crystal Lombardo has been a staff writer for Future of Working for five years. She is a proud veteran and mother. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our editor-in-chief a message here.