Homeland Security Act of 2002

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Homeland Security Act of 2002


By: U.S. Congress

Date: November 19, 2002

Source: Homeland Security Act of 2002, as published in the Federal Register.

About the Author: In reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States government sought to establish a separate office within the federal system to address the needs and concerns for preventing future terrorists attacks. What ensued was a 484 page document known as the Homeland Security Act of 2002 enacted by the 107th Congress (2nd session), and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. In this act, Congress defines and outlines the purpose, scope, and responsibilities of the new office. Furthermore, it strengthens penalties for violating national security laws, and grants law enforcement personnel a higher degree of access to confidential records on individuals and corporations.


The Department of Homeland Security's primary responsibilities include receiving and analyzing information pertaining to law enforcement, intelligence, and other information deemed pertinent to understanding the threat of terrorism. The Department is also intended to survey key U.S. resources and infrastructures to integrate relevant information into a cohesive and updated database of security information, to take necessary steps to prevent future terror attacks, and administer Homeland threat advisories when needed. The agency is responsible for connecting surveillance and law enforcement agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This integration stems from charges from federal law enforcement organizations and critics that a lack of communication between the agencies hindered prevention of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, against the United States.

The development and implication of the Department of Homeland Security office is large and expansive. Initial proposals requested billions of dollars for the development of data tracking programs, the integration of software, and for the research for new technologies to help agencies investigate terror threats. Additionally, the office undertakes programs to challenge cyberterrorism, counter nuclear and biological threats, and other acts of terrorist warfare. Cyberterrorism comes in a variety of forms, but the best known avenues for this kind of warfare are computer viruses aimed at world financial structures, such as ATM machines, credit card companies, and even large global businesses.

The agency integrates twenty-two existing federal offices—like those mentioned and others, including the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and many more. These offices still act as separate entities, within the federal system but they are now connected through communication networks and mandatory guidelines for the release of information.

Not since 1947 has the federal government seen such a large restructuring of its offices, when President Harry S. Truman established the Department of Defense. And the Office of Homeland Security stands to be a larger operation than the office of the military.


Sec. 2. Definitions

In this Act, the following definitions apply:

  1. Each of the terms "American homeland" and "home-land" means the United States.
  2. The term "appropriate congressional committee" means any committee of the House of Representatives or the Senate having legislative or oversight jurisdiction under the Rules of the House of Representatives or the Senate, respectively, over the matter concerned.
  3. The term "assets" includes contracts, facilities, property, records, unobligated or unexpended balances of appropriations, and other funds or resources (other than personnel).
  4. The term "critical infrastructure" has the meaning given that term in section 1016(e) of Public Law 107–56 (42 U.S.C. 5195c(e)).
  5. The term "Department" means the Department of Homeland Security.
  6. The term "emergency response providers" includes Federal, State, and local emergency public safety, law enforcement, emergency response, emergency medical (including hospital emergency facilities), and related personnel, agencies, and authorities.
  7. The term "executive agency" means an executive agency and a military department, as defined, respectively, in sections 105 and 102 of title 5, United States Code.
  8. The term "functions" includes authorities, powers, rights, privileges, immunities, programs, projects, activities, duties, and responsibilities.
  9. The term "local government" means:
    1. a county, municipality, city, town, township, local public authority, school district, special district, intrastate district, council of governments (regardless of whether the council of governments is incorporated as a nonprofit corporation under State law), regional or interstate government entity, or agency or instrumentality of a local government;
    2. an Indian tribe or authorized tribal organization, or in Alaska a Native village or Alaska Regional Native Corporation; and
    3. a rural community, unincorporated town or village, or other public entity.
  10. The term "major disaster" has the meaning given in section 102(2) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122).
  11. The term "personnel" means officers and employees.
  12. The term "Secretary" means the Secretary of Homeland Security.
  13. The term "State" means any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and any possession of the United States.
  14. The term "terrorism" means any activity that
    1. involves an act that (i) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and (ii) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and
    2. appears to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.
    1. The term "United States", when used in a geographic sense, means any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, any possession of the United States, and any waters within the jurisdiction of the United States.
    2. Nothing in this paragraph or any other provision of this Act shall be construed to modify the definition of "United States" for the purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act or any other immigration or nationality law.

Sec. 3. Construction; Severability

Any provision of this Act held to be invalid or unenforceable by its terms, or as applied to any person or circumstance, shall be construed so as to give it the maximum effect permitted by law, unless such holding shall be one of utter invalidity or unenforceability, in which event such provision shall be deemed severable from this Act and shall not affect the remainder thereof, or the application of such provision to other persons not similarly situated or to other, dissimilar circumstances.

Sec. 4. Effective Date

This Act shall take effect 60 days after the date of enactment.


Sec. 101. Executive Department; Mission

  1. ESTABLISHMENT-There is established a Department of Homeland Security, as an executive department of the United States within the meaning of title 5, United States Code.
    1. IN GENERAL: The primary mission of the Department is to:
      1. prevent terrorist attacks within the United States;
      2. reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism;
      3. minimize the damage, and assist in the recovery, from terrorist attacks that do occur within the United States;
      4. carry out all functions of entities transferred to the Department, including by acting as a focal point regarding natural and manmade crises and emergency planning;
      5. ensure that the functions of the agencies and subdivisions within the Department that are not related directly to securing the homeland are not diminished or neglected except by a specific explicit Act of Congress;
      6. ensure that the overall economic security of the United States is not diminished by efforts, activities, and programs aimed at securing the homeland; and
      7. monitor connections between illegal drug trafficking and terrorism, coordinate efforts to sever such connections, and otherwise contribute to efforts to interdict illegal drug trafficking.
    2. RESPONSIBILITY FOR INVESTIGATING AND PROSECUTING TERRORISM: Except as specifically provided by law with respect to entities transferred to the Department under this Act, primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting acts of terrorism shall be vested not in the Department, but rather in Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over the acts in question.


The Department of Homeland security stands to integrate the federal government and local law enforcement agencies to an unprecedented level. The use of new computer technologies, increased security forces, and increased national awareness to terrorist activities and threats have all factored into the creation of the office.

Opponents of the bill state that legalizing the U.S. government to track its citizens threatens to weaken civil liberties—particularly those outlined in the Bill of Rights. Critics further state that the employees transferred from the established twenty-two agencies should be left in place, and that existing agencies should be strengthened rather than creating a new "watchdog" organization.

In contrast, proponents of the bill argue that it is not establishing a watchdog organization. Rather, the Department of Homeland Defense will monitor existing agencies, smoothly connect them, and ensure that they communicate with one another in the future—so that another attack like September 11th does not happen again. In response to the tracking of data and the new governmental right to search and store information on individuals deemed a threat to the nation, proponents argue that only in rare instances would a common individual, with no security threat, accidentally appear in the system.

Other implications of the bill include limits on the information individuals can request under the Freedom of Information Act. (The Freedom of Information Act allows any U.S. citizen, researcher, or any other person deemed a viable source to obtain documents and data that has been declassified or deemed not a security threat to the United States.) Heightened criminal penalties for governmental employees who leak information to the general public have been increased, and governmental agencies have more freedom to meet in private, non-disclosed meetings. This last implication allows agencies and individuals who are dealing with information or goods directly connected to the security of the nation to keep their information private until declassification status has been issued. This process can take anywhere from ten to over one hundred years—depending on the threat level of the information.

Lastly, the bill allows for the development, storage, and procurement of weapons to counter bioterror attacks. One such example is the U.S. initiative to obtain mass quantities of the smallpox vaccine.

Accordingly, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 stands to drastically restructure the U.S. government. As this is such a large undertaking, with the possibility of misunderstandings regarding its purpose, the initial bill set out to clearly define and explain the new department. Since its initial signing, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 has been revised and amended.



Etzioni, Amitai. How Patriotic is the Patriot Act?: Freedom Versus Security in the Age of Terrorism. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.

Web sites

whitehouse.gov. "Analysis for the Homeland Security Act of 2002." <http://www.whitehouse.gov/deptofhomeland/analysis/> (accessed 25 June 2005).