The USA Patriot Act

The USA PATRIOT Act (commonly known as the “Patriot Act”) was passed by Congress as a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. I didn’t know this but according to Wikipedia the title of the Act is an acronym – Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.

Here is a an extract from the Wikipedia page:

The Act reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The act also expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, thus enlarging the number of activities to which the USA PATRIOT Act’s expanded law enforcement powers could be applied.

According to these are some of the more controversial sections of the Patriot Act:

  • Section 215 modifies the rules on records searches so that third-party holders of your financial, library, travel, video rental, phone, medical, church, synagogue, and mosque records can be searched without your knowledge or consent, providing the government says it’s trying to protect against terrorism.
  • Section 218 amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), authorizing secret searches without public knowledge or Department of Justice accountability, so long as the government can allege a foreign intelligence basis for the search.
  • Section 213 warrants — “Sneak and Peek” — extend the authority of FISA searches to any criminal search. This allows for secret searches of one’s home and property without prior notice.
  • Section 214 permits the removal of the warrant requirement for “Pen registers” which ascertain phone numbers dialed from a suspect’s telephone and “Trap and trace” devices which monitor the source of all incoming calls, so long as the government can certify that the information likely to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing investigation against international terrorism.
  • Section 216 clarifies that pen register/trap-and-trace authority applies to Internet surveillance. The Act changes the language to include Internet monitoring, specifically information about: “dialing, routing, and signaling.” It also broadens such monitoring to any information “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.”
  • Section 206 authorizes roving wiretaps: allowing taps on every phone or computer the target may use, and expands FISA to permit surveillance of any communications made to or by an intelligence target without specifying the particular phone line or computer to be monitored.
  • Section 505 authorizes the use of an administrative subpoena of personal records, without requiring probable cause or judicial oversight.
  • Section 802 creates a category of crime called “domestic terrorism,” penalizing activities that “involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States,” if the actor’s intent is to “influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”
  • Section 411 makes even unknowing association with terrorists a deportable offense.
  • Section 412 gives the attorney general authority to order a brief detention of aliens without any prior showing or court ruling that the person is dangerous.




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