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Policing - Counterterrorism

police act terrorist terrorists

Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, killing some three thousand people, policing in the United States experienced major new challenges. Intelligence gathering gained greater attention and counterterrorism led to much greater cooperation among police organizations of all levels of government.

Police resorted to a range of investigation tools from high tech monitoring devices to consulting with psychologists about the behavior of terrorists. Police found that terrorists were quite different than usual criminals; street criminals often acted on impulse taking advantage of opportunities and were untrained and undisciplined. Terrorists, driven by strong political and religious beliefs, carefully planned their activities, sometimes over long time periods.

In October 2001, just over a month after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Congress passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (more commonly known as the Patriot Act). The act loosened the restrictions on police for obtaining personal information about citizens. People no longer needed to be suspects in a crime for the police to access information about them.

Under the act, the FBI could deliver a letter to a doctor's office or librarian demanding the personal records of a specific individual without a warrant. Warrants could also be obtained for electronic surveillance without naming specific individuals. Warrants had to identify only what area or electronic system was to be tapped. The act was the subject of much debate. It spelled out that the greatest challenge for police was to prevent future terrorist attacks while protecting the civil liberties of its citizens.

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