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USA PATRIOT Act of 2001


The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 is a 342-page, sprawling piece of legislation that contains more than 150 sections and amends more than 15 federal laws. The law's full name is the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, hence the acronym USA PATRIOT Act. It deals primarily with combating terrorism and gives the executive branch of the federal government more tools to fight suspected terrorist activity, but it also aroused the anger of civil libertarians. Critics of the act have charged that the government gained the power to investigate and detain persons with little oversight from the courts.

In the aftermath of the september 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. political leaders sought to address terrorism with new vigor. President george w. bush and Attorney General john ashcroft presented Congress with proposed legislation on September 17, 2001, that focused on intelligence gathering, immigration, criminal justice, and money laundering. The administration sought new powers to conduct searches of people suspected of terrorism; to detain and deport persons suspected of terrorist involvement; and to remove statutes of limitations on terrorism. In addition, the administration wanted the justice department to have the power to place wiretaps on the phones and computers of anyone suspected of terrorism. This initial proposal became the framework for the USA PATRIOT Act, which was first introduced in the House of Representatives on October 2. A similar law was introduced in the Senate on October 4, and on October 12 it passed on a vote of 96–1, with only Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) dissenting. The House passed its version the next day on another lopsided vote, 337–79. The bills incorporated what the administration wanted, but it also gave the government the authority to conduct secret searches of a suspect's property. The two bodies resolved differences between their bills, and both houses passed the act on October 25. President Bush signed the bill into law on October 26. Because of objections about the scope of the authority given to the executive branch, Congress placed a "sunset" clause in the act. Many of the provisions would expire in five years if not re-authorized by Congress.

The act sets out the following purposes: "to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and … other purposes." It is divided into ten main categories called titles. They include enhancing domestic security against terrorism; enhancing surveillance procedures; abating money laundering; protecting the borders; removing obstacles to investigating terrorism; providing for victims of terrorism, public safety officers, and their families; increasing information sharing; strengthening the criminal laws against terrorism; improving intelligence; and miscellaneous provisions.

Title I, on enhancing domestic security against terrorism, sets up a Counterterrorism Fund in the U.S. Treasury and appropriates money for combating terrorism to the federal bureau of investigation's Technical Support Center. It also increases the president's authority to seize the property of foreign persons, organizations, or countries that the president determines have planned, authorized, aided, or engaged in hostilities or attacks against the United States. Finally, Title I instructs the u.s. secret service to develop a national network of electronic-crime task forces to investigate electronic crimes, including, but not limited to, potential terrorist attacks.

Title II, which concerns enhancing surveillance procedures, contains some of the act's most controversial provisions. Prior to the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, the federal government could conduct wiretaps with limited restrictions under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) only when foreign intelligence was the primary purpose. Now, the government could use FISA wiretaps, which lack certain constitutional protections, to conduct criminal investigations as long as foreign intelligence is a "significant" purpose of the investigation. Title II gives law enforcement broad authority to share acquired information with other federal departments. The act allows FISA authorities to compel an internet service provider to turn over information about a user's e-mail activity, and a business to turn over personal information that simply is related to a criminal investigation. Finally, Title II allows authorities executing search warrants to delay notice of the search under certain circumstances, thus limiting a citizen's ability to assert his or her constitutional rights before the search occurs.

Title III contains provisions to fight money laundering, as many terrorist groups finance their operations with money received from illegal drug and smuggling activities. Title IV, on border control, authorizes appropriations necessary to triple the number of U.S. Border Patrol, Customs Service, and Immigration and Naturalization Service personnel working on the Canadian border. Title IV also allows the secretary of state to designate domestic terrorist organizations, defined as any organization that has ever used a weapon or dangerous device to cause substantial damage to property. The designation renders a group's non-citizen members inadmissible to the United States and makes payment of membership dues a deportable offense.

Within Title III, Section 411 permits immigrants to be found inadmissible to the United States for speaking in a way that undermines antiterrorism efforts. Section 412 allows the federal government to imprison aliens who are suspected of terrorism, for up to seven days before charging them with a crime or beginning deportation proceedings. The detention can go on indefinitely under certain circumstances. Section 416 allows the government to require schools to turn over information pertaining to foreign students for analysis and investigation.

Title V of the USA PATRIOT Act enhances the federal government's ability to offer rewards for information that is valuable to terrorism investigations. Title VI establishes and funds assistance programs for victims of terrorism, public-safety officers, and their families. This provision set up the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 to pay the victims of the terrorist attacks and their families compensation. The Justice Department was authorized to appoint a special master, who would review claims and decide how much each victim or family would receive from the fund. Title VII expands the government's regional information-sharing system to help federal, state, and local law enforcement to respond more effectively to terrorist attacks.

Title VIII amends the U.S. criminal code to add material pertaining to terrorism, including sections on terrorism against mass transportation systems, the definition of domestic terrorism, the prohibition against harboring terrorists, and material support for terrorism. This title also eliminates the statute of limitations for many crimes involving terrorism. Title IX expresses Congress's intent for the central intelligence agency to gather intelligence concerning potential terrorism. Finally, Title X contains many miscellaneous provisions, including the intent of Congress that "in the quest to identify, locate, and bring to justice the perpetrators and sponsors of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans … should be protected."

Since its enactment the law has aroused controversy over its surveillance and detention provisions. The September 11 fund has generated bitterness and legal action by some of the families of the terrorist victims. In April 2003, some members of Congress introduced legislation that sought to repeal the sunset provisions, thereby making the entire law permanent.

Civil libertarians continue to object to the surveillance powers given to the government. The act authorized federal officials to obtain wiretapping orders that allow them to follow a suspect to any telephone the person uses. Prior law permitted wiretaps only on specified telephone lines. The act does allow persons to file civil lawsuits if the federal government discloses information gained through surveillance and wiretapping powers. The American Library Association has expressed concerns over provisions that require libraries to turn over the records of their patrons. Beyond supplying law enforcement with book information, libraries must share any requested information about a patron's Internet use on library computers.

Arab-American and Muslim leaders have objected to the immigration sections of the USA PATRIOT Act. The INS has detained hundreds of Middle Eastern immigrants for long periods of time without public acknowledgment. In addition, these leaders have complained that the use of the new surveillance powers has been targeted at their communities.

Kenneth R. Feinberg, the special master for the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, has drawn criticism for the way he has awarded money. Because his rulings are not appealable to a court of law, these awards are final. In May 2003, a federal court upheld Feinberg's administration of the fund.

further readings

Cole, David, et al. 2002. Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security. New York: New Press.

Ewing, Alphonse. 2003. USA PATRIOT Act. Hauppage, N.Y.: Nova Science Publishers.

Mailman, Stanley, et al. 2002. Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001: An Analysis. Newark, N.J.: LexisNexis.


September 11th Attacks; Terrorism.

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"USA PATRIOT Act of 2001." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"USA PATRIOT Act of 2001." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . (December 15, 2017).

"USA PATRIOT Act of 2001." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

USA Patriot Act (2001)

Usa Patriot Act (2001)

Lynne K. Zusman and Neil S. Helfand

History illustrates that in times of war or threat to our country's national security, our government will tend to relax restrictions on its incursions of American civil liberties. If the government exercises too much self-restraint in the surveillance and apprehension of persons presenting a potential threat to the security of the United States, it is believed, our national security will be jeopardized. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government immediately responded to the perceived need for broader governmental powers in detecting and preventing future terrorist attacks by enacting the USA Patriot Act (USAPA) on October 26, 2001.

Congress introduced the USA Patriot Act with the principal aim of preventing and punishing terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, as well as enhancing law enforcement investigative tools. Given the perceived need for prompt and immediate action in the wake of September 11th, the USA Patriot Act was approved by Congress and the president without the normal procedural review processes of intensive debate and hearings. The USAPA is a lengthy piece of legislation making broad and fundamental changes to the previous law governing the executive branch's powers in law enforcement and intelligence. In enacting the USAPA, Congress and the president was sought to promptly provide the legal tools necessary to deal with the current terrorist threats.


The USAPA calls for:

  • The enhancement of domestic security against terrorism.
  • The enhancement of surveillance procedures.
  • The abatement of money laundering and terrorism financing.
  • The protection of the northern border.
  • The removal of obstacles to the investigation of terrorism.
  • The provision of aid and assistance to victims of terrorism, public safety officers, and their families.
  • Increased information sharing between federal, local, and state governments.
  • The strengthening of criminal laws against terrorism.
  • The improvement of intelligence capabilities.

Although the USAPA's intent is to address the security needs of the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the act makes special provision for the preservation of the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans, including Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and Americans from South Asia, and states that every effort must be taken to preserve their safety. The USAPA also condemns discrimination against Arab and Muslim Americans and demands acts of violence against those individuals be punished to the full extent of the law.


Profound enhancements of the government's power of search and seizure now permit expanded government search capabilities with less judicial oversight. The USAPA also greatly expands the authority to intercept wire, oral, and electronic communications relating to terrorism, and to investigate computer fraud and abuse offenses. In addition to enhancing the abilities of the federal government to engage in domestic surveillance of individuals, the act calls upon citizens to report the suspicious activity of persons and businesses, thereby making the American public the eyes and ears of the government. This last provision is intended to overcome limitations in the government's resources and ability to monitor and detect potential terrorist threats and other crimes.

Under the USAPA the government also benefits from increased powers of record examination. The government can view educational, library, medical and financial records without demonstrating evidence of commission of a crime. The government is also now able to employ its newly acquired surveillance capabilities to review personal internet use.


The USAPA aims to remove hindrances to the detection and prevention of terrorist threats. To that end, in addition to enhancing the federal government's surveillance capabilities, the USAPA makes sweeping changes in the relationship between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, by breaking down traditional barriers to their coordination and cooperation. The USAPA provides for the expanded sharing of information gathered as part of criminal investigations with intelligence agencies and the expanded use of foreign intelligence surveillance tools and information in criminal investigations.


In the mid-1970s, Congressional investigations revealed extensive domestic surveillance and intelligence abuses by the executive branch of the government. Lawmakers had expressed concern about the potential for civil liberties violations by domestic law enforcement and intelligence agencies. For instance, the National Security Act of 1947, which established the Central Intelligence Agency, states that the CIA "shall have no police, subpoena, or law enforcement powers or internal security functions." Although limitations already existed on executive branch abuses in this area, Congress endeavored to create a greater system of checks and balances against such abuses.

As a result of these Congressional investigations, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) was enacted, requiring court orders for national security electronic surveillance in the United States. The intended aim of FISA was to restrain the power of the federal government, in particular law enforcement agencies of the executive branch, from engaging in unfettered domestic surveillance of individuals.

Prior to the enactment of the USAPA, however, attempts were made to broaden and expand the government's surveillance authority. In May 1995, Senator Joseph Lieberman proposed an amendment to the bill that became the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 which would have expanded the government's authority to conduct emergency wiretaps in cases of domestic or international terrorism. However, Congress's reluctance to expand wiretap laws any further led to the defeat of Senator Lieberman's amendment.

These previous prohibitions and checks on the executive branch's domestic surveillance and information sharing abuses have been largely undone by the new law created by the USAPA. It permits, for instance, the wider sharing of information from grand juries, domestic law enforcement wiretaps, and criminal investigations, and it also requires federal law enforcement agencies to share this information with intelligence agencies through the Director of Central Intelligence. In addition, law enforcement and intelligence agencies may now share information obtained by means of the government's enhanced surveillance capabilities.


While these enhanced governmental powers of search and seizure serve the purpose of security, history has shown that such powers, absent effective oversight of their use, may lead to profound abuses. Critics of the act voice their deep concerns regarding the likelihood of the government's undue infringement upon civil liberties and rights of privacy.

In recognizing these concerns, Congress incorporated a so-called "sunset provision" that causes certain USAPA provisions to end on December 31, 2005. This is also acknowledgment on Congress' part that certain elements of the USAPA run counter to America's traditional democratic principles, and that although current circumstances warrant such a deviation from traditional norms, such changes should not become a permanent piece of the U.S. government's framework. However, the sunset provision only applies to certain enumerated provisions of the law.

Although the act significantly curtails judicial oversight of law enforcement and intelligence activities, the act does provide for congressional oversight of the executive branch's expanded powers. In particular, the Senate Judiciary Committee is charged with establishing and maintaining an oversight panel responsible for examining how these newly granted powers are exercised.


The justification for expanding the executive branch's authority in the short term is clear. Passed less than two months after the September 11th attacks, the law's intended purpose of preventing and detecting future attacks was the preeminent concern of lawmakers. However, the hasty manner in which the law passed through Congressional lawmaking processes causes opponents to argue that lawmakers gave disproportionate consideration to the law enforcement and intelligence community's viewpoint in drafting the provisions.

It is anticipated that in the future the law will face challenges in the American court system. Although the security concerns of the United States may temporarily override these challenges, in the long-term, it is possible that certain controversial provisions of the law may not withstand judicial challenges.

See also: Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act; Department of Homeland Security Act; Espionage Act (1917) and Sedition Act (1918); Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; National Security Act of 1947


"FFC Analysis of the Provisions of the USA Patriot Act that Relate to Online Activities." October 31, 2001. <>.

Harrison, Ann. "Behind the USA Patriot Act," November 5, 2001. <>.

Testimony of Senator Patrick Leahy before the Senate, October 25, 2001.

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USA PATRIOT Act [Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorists], 2001, U.S. federal law intended to give federal authorities increased abilities to combat international and domestic terrorism. Quickly enacted with little opposition in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the USA PATRIOT Act primarily enlarged the powers of federal law-enforcement and intelligence-gathering agencies when dealing with terror crimes, but sections of the extensive bill also apply to criminal acts generally. The number of terror-related offenses was also increased, and reporting requirements, crimes, and penalties associated with money laundering were expanded.

Civil libertarians, librarians, and others have protested changes made by the act that have the potential to lead to law-enforcement abuses, including reduced judicial oversight of wiretaps, expanded law-enforcement access to records held by third-party businesses and organizations, and an ambiguously broadened definition of providing material support to terrorists. Such concerns have been partly prompted by the fact that the USA PATRIOT Act was designed in part to reduce restrictions enacted in response to abuses of government power associated with Watergate, anti–Vietnam War protesters, civil-rights groups, and the like.

These worries contributed to the vocal opposition in 2003 to the Bush administration's draft Domestic Security Enhancement Act, an expansion of the USA PATRIOT Act that ultimately was not submitted to Congress. Similarly, the renewal of those sections of the act slated to expire at the end of 2005 became contentious enough that opponents in the Senate were able to stall legislation to make them permanent, but after some modifications were made to the act in 2006, the act was renewed and most sections became permanent.

Leaks in 2013 by Edward Snowden revealed that the act had been used to authorize the mass collection of telecommunications records by the National Security Agency; a federal appeals court ruled (2015) that such data collection with respect to domestic telephone calls was not permitted by the law. The USA FREEDOM Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring; 2015) subsequently altered that section of the USA PATRIOT Act, ending mass data collection by the NSA, and requiring a court order to review such records held by telecommunications companies. Other aspects of the law have been challenged in the courts, with varying results.

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