October 26, 2001, six weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the USA Patriot Act was passed, bringing with it one of the most controversial pieces of legislation ever to hit Capitol Hill.
The Patriot Act essentially revamped the US government’s powers in regards to terrorism prevention and national security. It increased funding for institutions such as the Terrorist Screening Center and the National Electronic Crime Task Force. It allows for “enhanced surveillance procedures” which are, essentially, loopholes for the government to invade the privacy of US citizens with the use of wiretaps and other electronic surveillance devices. The Act broadened the possible measures to prevent money laundering used for terror. It heavily increased border security and removed “obstacles” in the terror investigative process, while also allowing for more National Security Letters (records that can be ordered by a federal agency regarding information on a certain person/subject without judicial probable cause) to be granted. It increased the aid for victims of terrorism and their families, allowed for easier cooperation on issues of terror that cross jurisdictional boundaries and translated acts of terrorism into criminal law. All in all, the act allows the government to overstep previous boundaries set in place in order to prevent terrorism at all costs.
The Patriot Act has been a center of debate since it’s introduction. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union see certain provisions of The Patriot Act as unconstitutional and grant the government even more unchecked power. This cause for concern is the main driving force for opponents of the act.
The act was initially passed with overwhelming support in Congress. Although many lawmakers viewed the bill favorably, the public was not as supportive. According to a Gallup Poll conducted in 2001, 47 percent of the population was in favor of measures taken to prevent terrorism even if they violated civil liberties while 49 percent of the population did not favor such measures. In 2011, the same poll was conducted and the results showed that 71 percent of the population opposed steps taken that would violate civil rights while only 25 percent were willing to give up civil liberties in exchange for security. What does this mean? Ultimately, these findings show that as time has gone on, the public seems to value their personal rights more than they did a few years ago. This could show that once the hysteria of a traumatic situation has subsided, the public begins to think rationally again and what once may have seemed within the lines of reason may no longer be acceptable. This subject of privacy invasion seems to be an ever present policy issue, especially since the recent NSA scandal.
It is important for citizens to be aware of policies that affect their rights. Citizens must become acquainted with legislation such as The Patriot Act in order to properly combat the government when it oversteps its boundaries. We must ask ourselves if national security supersedes individual rights.