3 minute read

U.S. State Department

The Usa Patriot Act

Six weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot Act, more formally labeled Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The act was passed by a 98 to 1 vote in the U.S. Senate and 357 to 66 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Department of Defense, charged with preventing future terrorists attacks, lists four significant areas in which the Patriot Act strengthened their efforts against terrorism.

1) The act gave law enforcement more investigative tools to target terrorists. Section 201 allows the use of electronic surveillance methods (wiretaps) for investigation of specific terrorism-related crimes as the potential use of weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons, the financing of terrorism, and killing Americans abroad. In the past wiretaps were allowed for crimes such as drug trafficking, or mail and passport fraud, but not on all of the crimes terrorists could commit.

Section 206 allows federal agents to use "roving wiretaps" against terrorists, which apply to a suspect rather than one particular phone line. Roving wiretaps had been used in other crime cases, but did not legally apply to terrorism. Using cell phones, terrorists are well trained in constantly changing communication devices and locations. Obtaining a court order to tap a specific phone at a specific location had become an obsolete, ineffective tool.

Section 213 allows courts to give permission to law enforcement agents to delay notice that a search warrant has been approved and about to be used. Delayed notification search warrants give officers time to search a number of individuals without tipping them off ahead of time. Delayed notice prevents escape from the investigative scene, evidence destruction, or tipping off other criminal associates their activities are under investigation. Delayed notification has long been used in drug cases, fighting organized crime, and child pornography.

The Patriot Act also allows federal agents to ask for a court order to acquire business records in national security terrorism cases. This ability is granted in Section 215. The Department of Defense reports that they look not only for bank records to see who sends money to terrorists but records from hardware stores, booksellers, chemical suppliers, and weapons manufacturers. Although highly controversial, an individual's library checkout records can also be obtained.

2) The act allows for better sharing of information and cooperation between government agencies. Sections 203 and 218 breaks down the so-called "Wall" halting the flow of information and evidence-sharing between agencies. Section 203 allows police officers, FBI agents, intelligence officers, immigration officers, and federal prosecutors to share information gained by wiretaps and from grand juries who gather information on specific cases. Section 218 allows full coordination between intelligence and law enforcement to protect against threats from a foreign agent. An often used phrase by law enforcement agencies to describe this aspect of the Patriot Act is that they are better able to "connect the dots."

3) The Patriot Act recognizes that new technologies like computer systems are used by terrorists allowing them to plan terrorist activities from various locations and frequently switch locations. Previously search warrants had to be obtained for each site, which was time consuming and ineffective. Sections 219 and 220 allow warrants to be issued by a judge in any district where terrorist activities occur then used in any district necessary nationwide.

4)The act clearly defines "material support" for terrorists. All support activities are federal crimes. Section 805, "Material support of terrorism" identified what "support" encompassed. Section 805 includes any act specifically intended to support terrorism such as people who raise and move funds, open bank accounts, recruit terrorists, provide training, provide weapons and supplies, buy airline tickets, lease cars, and rent apartments. Also included are those who offer terrorists expert advice and assistance as how to destroy bridges, buildings, make bombs, or acquire deadly chemical or biological agents. The Department of Defense rates this section as vital to keeping terrorists out of U.S. communities. They list terrorism support as the most frequently encountered terrorist activity on U.S. soil.

A number of Patriot Act sections will expire on December 31, 2005, if not renewed by Congress. Those include Sections 201, 206, 215, and 220. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) oppose renewal of various sections unless they are altered to better protect civil liberties. For example, the ACLU opposes renewing Section 206 "roving wiretaps" because it believes the wiretaps infringe on every American's privacy.

The ACLU predictably opposes Section 215 as well, which allows law enforcement access to an individual's various records including library checkout and business records. A number of bills were in Congress in mid-2004 to make changes to the Patriot Act in an effort to better protect the civil liberties of all U.S. citizens.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawU.S. State Department - Things To Remember While Reading Excerpts From "patterns Of Global Terrorism—2002":, Excerpt From "patterns Of Global Terrorism—2002"