USA Patriot Act

views updated May 23 2018



By: 107th U.S. Congress

Date: October 26, 2001

Source: USA Patriot Act

About the Author: President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act, previously passed by the first session of the 107th United States Congress, into law on October 26, 2001.


The United States Congress established the USA PATRIOT Act (Patriot Act) to improve the capabilities of law enforcement agents to prevent terror attacks, and to more effectively investigate and prosecute terrorists and would be terrorists. USA PATRIOT, is an acronym for, "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism."

The United Sates Senate and House of Representatives created the Patriot Act to facilitate the work of investigators, so they would be better equipped to deal with the crimes labeled as terrorism. Because of their unconventional nature, terrorism-related crimes might not have been covered under laws prior to the Patriot Act. The Act is intended to give investigators access to information and use of appropriate technology to monitor the movements of terrorists and to research suspected terrorist organizations, with the goal of stopping terrorist activities before they occur.

Information gathering is one area of focus of the Patriot Act. Previously, there were limitations to the instances when law enforcement could conduct electronic surveillance of terrorist related activities. The Act gives more authority to investigators to carry out surveillance of all terrorism-related activities, including chemical-weapons offenses, the use of weapons of mass destruction, the killing of Americans abroad, and the financing of terrorism.

The Act also helps law enforcement officials more easily obtain subpoenas for access to information records of suspected terrorists and terrorist organizations. The Act facilitates more functional sharing of information between government agencies and prosecutors, to improve efficiency, and eliminate duplicated efforts for solving terrorism-related crimes and prosecuting those involved.

Patriot Act legislation was officially signed by U.S. President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. This was less than two months after the attacks of September 11th, when passenger planes were hijacked and flown into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

Much of the Patriot Act consists of additions, adjustments, and deletions to already existing laws so they can be applied to investigations involving terrorist activity. The Act is organized into ten different titles, with each title containing several sections describing different aspects of terrorism and how terrorism is to be dealt with in the United States.



To deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


  1. SHORT TITLE—This Act may be cited as the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001".
  2. TABLE OF CONTENTS—The table of contents for this Act is as follows:

Sec. 1. Short title and table of contents.

Sec. 2. Construction; severability.

TITLE I—Enhancing Domestic Security Against Terrorism

Sec. 101. Counterterrorism fund.

Sec. 102. Sense of Congress condemning discrimination against Arab and Muslim Americans.

Sec. 103. Increased funding for the technical support center at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Sec. 104. Requests for military assistance to enforce prohibition in certain emergencies.

Sec. 105. Expansion of National Electronic Crime Task Force Initiative.

Sec. 106. Presidential authority.

TITLE II—Enhanced Surveillance Procedures

Sec. 201. Authority to intercept wire, oral, and electronic communications relating to terrorism.

Sec. 202. Authority to intercept wire, oral, and electronic communications relating to computer fraud and abuse offenses.

Sec. 203. Authority to share criminal investigative information.

Sec. 204. Clarification of intelligence exceptions from limitations on interception and disclosure of wire, oral, and electronic communications.

Sec. 205. Employment of translators by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Sec. 206. Roving surveillance authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

Sec. 207. Duration of FISA surveillance of non-United States persons who are agents of a foreign power.

Sec. 208. Designation of judges.

Sec. 209. Seizure of voice-mail messages pursuant to warrants.

Sec. 210. Scope of subpoenas for records of electronic communications.

Sec. 211. Clarification of scope.

Sec. 212. Emergency disclosure of electronic communications to protect life and limb.

Sec. 213. Authority for delaying notice of the execution of a warrant.

Sec. 214. Pen register and trap and trace authority under FISA.

Sec. 215. Access to records and other items under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Sec. 216. Modification of authorities relating to use of pen registers and trap and trace devices.

Sec. 217. Interception of computer trespasser communications.

Sec. 218. Foreign intelligence information.

Sec. 219. Single-jurisdiction search warrants for terrorism.

Sec. 220. Nationwide service of search warrants for electronic evidence.

Sec. 221. Trade sanctions.

Sec. 222. Assistance to law enforcement agencies.

Sec. 223. Civil liability for certain unauthorized disclosures.

Sec. 224. Sunset.

Sec. 225. Immunity for compliance with FISA wiretap.

TITLE III—International Money Laundering Abatement And Anti-Terrorist Financing Act Of 2001

Sec. 301. Short title.

Sec. 302. Findings and purposes.

Sec. 303. 4-year congressional review; expedited consideration.

Subtitle A—International Counter Money Laundering and Related Measures

Sec. 311. Special measures for jurisdictions, financial institutions, or international transactions of primary money laundering concern.

Sec. 312. Special due diligence for correspondent accounts and private banking accounts.

Sec. 313. Prohibition on United States correspondent accounts with foreign shell banks.

Sec. 314. Cooperative efforts to deter money laundering.

Sec. 315. Inclusion of foreign corruption offenses as money laundering crimes.

Sec. 316. Anti-terrorist forfeiture protection.

Sec. 317. Long-arm jurisdiction over foreign money launderers.

Sec. 318. Laundering money through a foreign bank.

Sec. 319. Forfeiture of funds in United States interbank accounts.

Sec. 320. Proceeds of foreign crimes.

Sec. 321. Financial institutions specified in subchapter II of chapter 53 of title 31, United States code.

Sec. 322. Corporation represented by a fugitive.

Sec. 323. Enforcement of foreign judgments.

Sec. 324. Report and recommendation.

Sec. 325. Concentration accounts at financial institutions.

Sec. 326. Verification of identification.

Sec. 327. Consideration of anti-money laundering record.

Sec. 328. International cooperation on identification of originators of wire transfers.

Sec. 329. Criminal penalties.

Sec. 330. International cooperation in investigations of money laundering, financial crimes, and the finances of terrorist groups.

Subtitle B—Bank Secrecy Act Amendments and Related Improvements

Sec. 351. Amendments relating to reporting of suspicious activities.

Sec. 352. Anti-money laundering programs.

Sec. 353. Penalties for violations of geographic targeting orders and certain recordkeeping requirements, and lengthening effective period of geographic targeting orders.

Sec. 354. Anti-money laundering strategy.

Sec. 355. Authorization to include suspicions of illegal activity in written employment references.

Sec. 356. Reporting of suspicious activities by securities brokers and dealers; investment company study.

Sec. 357. Special report on administration of bank secrecy provisions.

Sec. 358. Bank secrecy provisions and activities of United States intelligence agencies to fight international terrorism.

Sec. 359. Reporting of suspicious activities by underground banking systems.

Sec. 360. Use of authority of United States Executive Directors.

Sec. 361. Financial crimes enforcement network.

Sec. 362. Establishment of highly secure network.

Sec. 363. Increase in civil and criminal penalties for money laundering.

Sec. 364. Uniform protection authority for Federal Reserve facilities.

Sec. 365. Reports relating to coins and currency received in non-financial trade or business.

Sec. 366. Efficient use of currency transaction report system.

Subtitle C—Currency Crimes and Protection

Sec. 371. Bulk cash smuggling into or out of the United States.

Sec. 372. Forfeiture in currency reporting cases.

Sec. 373. Illegal money transmitting businesses.

Sec. 374. Counterfeiting domestic currency and obligations.

Sec. 375. Counterfeiting foreign currency and obligations.

Sec. 376. Laundering the proceeds of terrorism.

Sec. 377. Extraterritorial jurisdiction.

TITLE IV—Protecting the Border

Subtitle A—Protecting the Northern Border

Sec. 401. Ensuring adequate personnel on the northern border.

Sec. 402. Northern border personnel.

Sec. 403. Access by the Department of State and the INS to certain identifying information in the criminal history records of visa applicants and applicants for admission to the United States.

Sec. 404. Limited authority to pay overtime.

Sec. 405. Report on the integrated automated fingerprint identification system for ports of entry and overseas consular posts.

Subtitle B—Enhanced Immigration Provisions

Sec. 411. Definitions relating to terrorism.

Sec. 412. Mandatory detention of suspected terrorists; habeas corpus; judicial review.

Sec. 413. Multilateral cooperation against terrorists.

Sec. 414. Visa integrity and security.

Sec. 415. Participation of Office of Homeland Security on Entry-Exit Task Force.

Sec. 416. Foreign student monitoring program.

Sec. 417. Machine readable passports.

Sec. 418. Prevention of consulate shopping.

Subtitle C—Preservation of Immigration Benefits for Victims of Terrorism

Sec. 421. Special immigrant status.

Sec. 422. Extension of filing or reentry deadlines.

Sec. 423. Humanitarian relief for certain surviving spouses and children.

Sec. 424. "Age-out" protection for children.

Sec. 425. Temporary administrative relief.

Sec. 426. Evidence of death, disability, or loss of employment.

Sec. 427. No benefits to terrorists or family members of terrorists.

Sec. 428. Definitions.


Sec. 501. Attorney General's authority to pay rewards to combat terrorism.

Sec. 502. Secretary of State's authority to pay rewards.

Sec. 503. DNA identification of terrorists and other violent offenders.

Sec. 504. Coordination with law enforcement.

Sec. 505. Miscellaneous national security authorities.

Sec. 506. Extension of Secret Service jurisdiction.

Sec. 507. Disclosure of educational records.

Sec. 508. Disclosure of information from NCES surveys.


Subtitle A—Aid to Families of Public Safety Officers

Sec. 611. Expedited payment for public safety officers involved in the prevention, investigation, rescue, or recovery efforts related to a terrorist attack.

Sec. 612. Technical correction with respect to expedited payments for heroic public safety officers.

Sec. 613. Public safety officers benefit program payment increase.

Sec. 614. Office of Justice programs.

Subtitle B—Amendments to the Victims of Crime Act of 1984

Sec. 621. Crime victims fund.

Sec. 622. Crime victim compensation.

Sec. 623. Crime victim assistance.

Sec. 624. Victims of terrorism.


Sec. 711. Expansion of regional information sharing system to facilitate Federal-State-local law enforcement response related to terrorist attacks.


Sec. 801. Terrorist attacks and other acts of violence against mass transportation systems.

Sec. 802. Definition of domestic terrorism.

Sec. 803. Prohibition against harboring terrorists.

Sec. 804. Jurisdiction over crimes committed at U.S. facilities abroad.

Sec. 805. Material support for terrorism.

Sec. 806. Assets of terrorist organizations.

Sec. 807. Technical clarification relating to provision of material support to terrorism.

Sec. 808. Definition of Federal crime of terrorism.

Sec. 809. No statute of limitation for certain terrorism offenses.

Sec. 810. Alternate maximum penalties for terrorism offenses.

Sec. 811. Penalties for terrorist conspiracies.

Sec. 812. Post-release supervision of terrorists.

Sec. 813. Inclusion of acts of terrorism as racketeering activity.

Sec. 814. Deterrence and prevention of cyberterrorism.

Sec. 815. Additional defense to civil actions relating to preserving records in response to Government requests.

Sec. 816. Development and support of cybersecurity forensic capabilities.

Sec. 817. Expansion of the biological weapons statute.


Sec. 901. Responsibilities of Director of Central Intelligence regarding foreign intelligence collected under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

Sec. 902. Inclusion of international terrorist activities within scope of foreign intelligence under National Security Act of 1947.

Sec. 903. Sense of Congress on the establishment and maintenance of intelligence relationships to acquire information on terrorists and terrorist organizations.

Sec. 904. Temporary authority to defer submittal to Congress of reports on intelligence and intelligence-related matters.

Sec. 905. Disclosure to Director of Central Intelligence of foreign intelligence-related information with respect to criminal investigations.

Sec. 906. Foreign terrorist asset tracking center.

Sec. 907. National Virtual Translation Center.

Sec. 908. Training of government officials regarding identification and use of foreign intelligence.


Sec. 1001. Review of the department of justice.

Sec. 1002. Sense of congress.

Sec. 1003. Definition of "electronic surveillance."

Sec. 1004. Venue in money laundering cases.

Sec. 1005. First responders assistance act.

Sec. 1006. Inadmissibility of aliens engaged in money laundering.

Sec. 1007. Authorization of funds for DEA police training in south and central Asia.

Sec. 1008. Feasibility study on use of biometric identifier scanning system with access to the FBI integrated automated fingerprint identification system at overseas consular posts and points of entry to the United States.

Sec. 1009. Study of access.

Sec. 1010. Temporary authority to contract with local and State governments for performance of security functions at United States military installations.

Sec. 1011. Crimes against charitable Americans.

Sec. 1012. Limitation on issuance of hazmat licenses.

Sec. 1013. Expressing the sense of the senate concerning the provision of funding for bioterrorism preparedness and response.

Sec. 1014. Grant program for State and local domestic preparedness support.

Sec. 1015. Expansion and reauthorization of the crime identification technology act for antiterrorism grants to States and localities.

Sec. 1016. Critical infrastructures protection.


According to the United States Department of Justice, the Patriot Act has been successful in providing expanded law enforcement powers that improve the federal government's efforts to identify and stop terrorism acts in the U.S. or against U.S. interests abroad. The Department of Justice calls attention to four significant aspects of the Patriot Act that highlight its success.

First, the Department of Justice says the Patriot Act allows terrorism investigators to use tools that have always been available for investigating organized crime and drug trafficking. These tools improve the ability of law enforcement agents to use surveillance measures for cases involving suspected terrorism crimes. Also, investigators are allowed the opportunity to delay notifying a person if a warrant has been executed to find out information about him or her. This is a method of collecting information without a suspect knowing, so the party does not destroy or hide pertinent information just prior to the arrival of investigators. Also, in some cases, investigators can be issued a subpoena for accessing information records more easily through a federal court than by going through a more complicated and timely grand jury hearing.

Secondly, the Department of Justice says the Patriot Act facilitates cooperation among government agencies allowing them to share information about individuals and specific cases. This is designed to allow prosecutors and intelligence officials to share evidence received from grand juries.

Third, the Patriot Act allows authorities to use upto-date technologies to investigate terrorists who use highly sophisticated means of communication, and operate in many different locations. Authorities can monitor the activity of computer hackers on computer networks, as if they were physical trespassers on private property. In some cases, authorities can use a search warrant beyond the boundaries of the district where the search warrant was obtained. This is said to allow investigators to do their work in several districts without having to go through the lengthy process of obtaining multiple warrants where they want to follow specific terrorists.

Finally, the Department of Justice explains that the Patriot Act has increased penalties for those people who are involved in carrying out terrorist crimes. The law also specifically prohibits people from harboring terrorists. It increases the maximum penalties for crimes that would likely be carried out by terrorists, such as arson, destruction of energy facilities, and giving support to terrorist groups. The Act goes on to make penalties for specific types of terrorism, including terrorism on mass transit, bio-terrorism, and for conspiracy to carry out terrorist acts.

Despite the stated success from the U.S. government, there have been numerous critics of the Patriot Act, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU, and other privacy and civil liberties advocates, assert that the Act violates too many individual freedoms and liberties, especially regarding privacy. They argue that the Act makes it too easy for law enforcement officials to collect personal information and monitor organizations and individuals, especially American citizens, under the auspices of terrorism-related investigation.

Critics also claim that the Patriot Act allows excessive monitoring of Americans who may or may not know they are being watched. The Act allows the Government to monitor records of Internet use, utilize roving phone taps, and monitor private records of individual participants of legal, legitimate protests.

It is argued that the Act minimizes the system of checks and balances between the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government, by giving too much power to the executive branch. The executive branch has increased authority when search and surveillance powers are given to domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies. Critics say the judicial review and supervision of information gathering is therefore weakened. Critics also point out that the Attorney General has increased power to detain and deport noncitizens with minimized judicial oversight.

Supporters of the act disagree, claiming that authorities do not have free reign to do whatever they want, and that under the Act, the courts must still be included in the surveillance activities of law enforcement. They say the Patriot Act ensures the ease with which law enforcement agencies are able to obtain the mandatory court permissions for carrying out the necessary terrorism-related investigations.

In September 2004, a federal judge ruled that the Act did indeed violate the Constitution, by giving federal authorities unchecked powers to acquire private information.

Another common argument is that the Patriot Act oversteps its stated boundaries of working to eliminate terrorism, as many of the provisions in the ACT apply to all situations, not only those involving terrorist crimes.

Critics, who are found in both the Democratic and Republican political parties, say the Patriot Act is too large and complex, and that it was constructed in a rush shortly after the September 11th attacks in 2001. The goal then was to put legislation into place quickly in order to help ensure the prevention of additional terrorist attacks. Further debate and discussion may have produced a more acceptable set of provisions.

Numerous U.S. communities have debated in town hall and city council meetings as to whether or not the Patriot Act violates civil liberties. Resolutions stating an opposition to the Patriot Act have been passed in 389 communities in forty-three different states according to the ACLU. Of those, seven were statewide resolutions (including Colorado, Montana, and Idaho).

Many of the provisions in the Act expired at the end of 2005. Extension of, changes to, or permanent adoption of measures in the Act, are decided upon by the U.S. Congress, and ultimately must be signed into law by the President.



Julia Preston. "Judge Strikes Down Section of Patriot Act." New York Times. September 30, 2004.

James G. Lakely. "Conservatives, liberals align against Patriot Act." Washington Times. June 14, 2005.

Web sites

Jurist "The USA Patriot Act and the U.S. Department of Justice: Losing Our Balances?" <> (accessed July 4, 2005).

American Civil Liberties Union. "USA Patriot Act." <> (accessed July 4, 2005).

United States Department of Justice. "The USA PATRIOT Act: Preserving Life and Liberty." <> (accessed July 7, 2005).

USA Patriot Act

views updated May 17 2018

USA Patriot Act

Sections within this essay:

Provisions of the Patriot Act
Title I: Enhancing Domestic Security Against Terrorism
Title II: Enhanced Surveillance Procedures
Title III: Money Laundering
Title IV: Border Protection
Titles V, VI, and VII
Title VIII: Criminal Law Changes
Title IX: Improved Intelligence

Additional Resources
American Civil Liberties Union
Department of Justice
American Library Association


In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George Bush and his administration devised legislation now known as the Patriot Act (or USA Patriot Act). The Patriot Act was intended to thwart future terrorist attacks, through identification and punishment of its perpetrators. "USA Patriot Act" is an acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001."

The proposed legislation was submitted to Congress just one week after the attacks, and quickly gained approval in both houses. It passed in the Senate without debate; Russell Feingold (D-WI) was the lone vote against the measure. Feingold said, "Preserving our freedom is one of the main reasons that we are now engaged in this new war on terrorism. We will lose that war without firing a shot if we sacrifice the liberties of the American people." In the House of Representatives, the legislation passed 357 to 66, after receiving minor modifications. The president signed the 342-page bill into law on October 26, 2001. When he signed it, he said, "We're dealing with terrorists who operate by highly sophisticated methods and technologies, some of which were not even available when our existing laws were written. The bill before me takes account of the new realities and dangers posed by modern terrorists."

Congress declared its commitment to protecting Americans' civil rights and civil liberties in the "quest to identify, locate, and bring to justice the perpetrators and sponsors of the terrorist attacks," but the Patriot Act has sparked fierce debate. Proponents say the act enhances national security. Opponents, including the ACLU, contend the Patriot Act severely undercuts basic civil liberties. The ACLU has charged that the Patriot Act "vastly expand[s] the government's authority to spy on its own citizens, while simultaneously reducing checks and balances on those powers like judicial oversight, public accountability, and the ability to challenge government searches in court." Many other groups have criticized the act as well. For example, according to the National League of Cities, by mid-2005 more than 2,000 communities had passed resolutions expressing concern with civil liberties issues in the Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act's stated purpose is "to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes." The act is comprised of the ten categories, called titles:

  • Title I: Enhancing domestic security against terrorism
  • Title II: Enhancing surveillance procedures
  • Title III: Abatement of international money laundering
  • Title IV: Protecting the borders
  • Title V: Removal of obstacles to investigate terrorism
  • Title VI: Providing for victims of terrorism, public safety officers, and their families
  • Title VII: Increased information sharing
  • Title VIII: Strengthening criminal laws against terrorism
  • Title IX: Improved intelligence
  • Title X: Miscellaneous provisions

According to the Department of Justice's website devoted to the Patriot Act, the following successes can be attributed, wholly or in part, to the Patriot Act:

  • Intelligence and law enforcement communities, both in the U.S. and abroad, have identified and disrupted over 150 terrorist threats and cells
  • Nearly two-thirds of al Qaida's known senior leadership has been captured or killed
  • Worldwide, more than 3,000 operatives have been incapacitated
  • Five terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), and Northern Virginia were broken up
  • Terrorism-related investigations has resulted in criminal charges against 401 individuals
  • 212 individuals have been convicted or have pleaded guilty in the United States, including shoe-bomber Richard Reid and John Walker Lindh
  • More than 515 individuals linked to the September 11th investigation have been removed from the United States

Provisions of the Patriot Act

Title I: Enhancing Domestic Security Against Terrorism

Provisions in Title I set up a Counterterrorism Fund in the U.S. Treasury, and appropriated $200 million for each fiscal year from 2002 through 2004. Section 106 of the title increases presidential authority to seize the property of foreign persons, organizations, or countries that the president determines "has planned, authorized, aided, or engaged in such hostilities or attacks against the United States." Title I also orders the U.S. Secret Service to develop a national network of electronic crime task forces to "purpose of preventing, detecting, and investigating various forms of electronic crimes, including potential terrorist attacks against critical infrastructure and financial payment systems."

Title II: Enhanced Surveillance Procedures

This title contains the act's most controversial provisions. Title II extends the government's authority to use wiretaps under the Foreign Intelligence Survey Act of 1978 (FISA). FISA authorized the government to conduct wiretap surveillance in foreign intelligence investigations, without having to show probable cause to obtain a warrant. Typically, the Fourth Amendment requires a showing of probable cause before a warrant will be issued in a criminal case. Before the Patriot Act, the government could conduct such wiretaps only where the primary purpose was to obtain foreign intelligence. The Patriot Act expanded the Fourth Amendment exception. Now, pursuant to section 218, FISA may be used where a "significant" purpose of the investigation is foreign intelligence gathering.

In 2001, laws did not exist regarding Internet surveillance. As the Internet grew, authorities relied on pre-Internet era wiretap laws to gather information. Essentially, whenever law enforcement personnel wanted access to Internet addresses (URLs), they sought authorization through the "pen register" and "trap and trace" laws of telephone surveillance. Pen registers capture the phone numbers of outgoing telephone calls. Trap and trace devices capture incoming phone numbers. Neither method captures the actual content of a telephone call, so investigators could obtain a search warrant without establishing probable cause that a crime was being committed. When faced with Internet surveillance requests, some judges applied the telephone surveillance rules, but others refused. In Section 216, the Patriot Act specifically applies pen register and trap-and-trace law to the Internet. Moreover, pen registers and trap and trace wiretaps are valid nationwide, not just in the jurisdiction of the court that approved it. The section does not permit examination of the content of a communication. Nevertheless, critics argue that web addresses are different than telephone numbers. According to the ACLU, "When we 'visit' a Web page what we are really doing is downloading that page from the Internet onto our computer…. That is much richer information than a single list of the people we have communicated with; it is intimate information that reveals who we are and what we are thinking about-much more like the content of a phone call than the number dialed."

Section 214 deals with wiretapping authority under FISA and makes it easier for authorities to obtain approval for pen register and trap and trace wiretap devices. Investigators must certify that information obtained will be relevant to an investigation, rather than the previous, stricter standard that permitted wiretaps when a line was used for communications with someone involved in terrorism.

Section 209 permits seizure of voice mail messages with a search warrant. Previously, authorities needed a wiretap order.

Title II also gives the government broad authority to share "electronic, wire, and oral interception information" gleaned from an investigation with other federal agencies. Pursuant to FISA, it also allows authorities to compel Internet service providers to disclose information about a user's e-mail activity, and to compel businesses to turn over personal information related to a criminal investigation. Moreover, section 213 provides that authorities executing a search warrant may delay notice of the search under certain circumstances. Critics allege this delay impinges upon a person's right to challenge the constitutionality of the search.

Pursuant to the act, the federal government may examine the library records of patrons without their knowledge. The American Library Association (ALA) has condemned this authorization, arguing that it violates user privacy and thereby threatens the free access to knowledge and information. The 64,000-member ALA passed the resolution in early 2003.

Section 224 is a sunset provision, intended to allay concern over the controversy in some of its sections. Accordingly, a number of the act's surveillance and intelligence- gathering provisions, if not re-approved, were set to expire on December 31, 2005. The House of Representatives voted on December 14, 2005, by a vote of 251 to 174, to extend the law for another four years. The House voted to renew sections that permit roving wiretaps. Roving wiretaps are wiretaps placed on every telephone a suspect uses. It also approved extension of provisions that permit the FBI to use secret warrants to obtain medical, business, and library records. In the Senate, however, the re-approval process was much more uncertain. Finally, the Senate and House compromised and approved a renewal of the act in March 2006.

Provisions in Title II have been successfully employed in non-terrorist cases. In an address to Congress on July 13, 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft noted several instances where provisions in Title II were used in domestic criminal investigations. The cases cited involved sexual predators and electronic surveillance under sections 210 and 212 of the act. Ashcroft told Congress, "When it comes to saving lives and protecting freedom, we must use the Patriot Act and every legal means available to us."

Title III: Money Laundering

The official name of Title III is the "International Money Laundering Abatement and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001." In passing these provisions, Congress cited International Monetary Fund figures which estimate that between two and five percent of the global gross domestic product comes from money laundering with money from illegal drug and smuggling activities. The law called these gains from money laundering the "financial fuel" of terrorist operations. According to the Justice Department, money laundering provisions have been used to:

  • Freeze $136 million in assets world-wide
  • Charge 113 individuals with crimes related to terrorist financing, resulting in 57 convictions or guilty pleas to date
  • Establish an FBI Terrorist Financing Operations Section (TFOS)
  • "Identify, investigate, prosecute, disrupt, and dismantle terrorist-related financial and fundraising activities" through TFOS and the Joint Terrorism Task Forces

Title IV: Border Protection

Provisions in this title authorized appropriations to triple the number of U.S. Border Patrol, Customs Service, and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) personnel posted at the border with Canada. (In other legislation related to the September 11, 2001, attacks, in March 2003, Customs, INS, and Border Patrol became part of the newly formed Department of Homeland Security.) Provisions in this title also enhance immigration provisions. For example, the Secretary of State now has the authority to designate domestic terrorist organizations. A domestic terrorist organization is defined as any organization that has ever used a weapon or dangerous device to cause substantial damage to property. The law also makes any non-citizen members of the group inadmissible to the U.S.; payment of dues is a deportable offense. Moreover, aliens are inadmissible to the U.S. if they belong to a group "whose public endorsement of acts of terrorist activity the Secretary of State has determined undermines United States efforts to reduce or eliminate terrorist activities."

Section 416 addresses the foreign student monitoring program. It compels schools to turn over information on foreign students for analysis and investigation.

Section 412 of Title IV is another controversial section of the Patriot Act. It permits up to seven days of detention for aliens suspected of terrorism, before they must be charged with a crime or removal proceedings are commenced. Moreover, an immigrant who has been charged with a violation may be held for up to six months if the immigrant's release would threaten national security.

The first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, stated in 2004, "We share nearly 7,500 miles of land border with Canada and Mexico, across which more than 400 million people, 130 million motor vehicles and 2.5 million rail cars pass every year. We patrol almost 95,000 miles of shoreline and navigable waters … We have to get it right millions of times a week. But the terrorists only have to get it right once."

Titles V, VI, and VII

These titles have not been the source of controversy. The purpose of Title V is to enhance the federal government's ability to offer rewards for information offered for terrorism investigations. Title VI is concerned with providing funds and assistance to the victims of terrorism and to public safety officers and their families, where the officers are killed or suffer catastrophic injury due to terrorism. Title VII amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to facilitate communication among federal, state, and local authorities in the event of a terrorist attack.

Title VIII: Criminal Law Changes

Title VIII's numerous sections are intended strengthen criminal laws against terrorism. This title adds offenses for terrorism against mass transportation. It also addresses domestic terrorism, defining it as involving "acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State" that "appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States." Section 803 makes it illegal to harbor or conceal terrorists or suspected terrorists. Moreover, section 809 extends certain criminal statutes of limitations. Where the commission of certain terrorism offenses "resulted in, or created a forseeable risk of, death or serious bodily injury to another person," the statute of limitations is eliminated. Section 814 is intended to deter and prevent cyber-terrorism by increasing criminal penalties for Computer Fraud and Abuse Act violations. It amends the statutory definition of "protected computers" so that computers located outside the United States are included.

Title IX: Improved Intelligence

This title addresses various intelligence concerns, within the federal government, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Congress directed the CIA to set up a "National Virtual Translation Center" to provide "timely and accurate translations of foreign intelligence for all other elements of the intelligence community."

Additional Resources

USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.Available at

http://www.lifeandliberty.govDepartment of Justice's Patriot Act website, 2006.

The Patriot Act: Opposing Viewpoints Greenhaven Press, 2005.

The USA PATRIOT Act, Online Newshour, The website of The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Available at


American Civil Liberties Union

125 Broad Street, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10004 USA
Phone: (212) 549-2500
Primary Contact: Nadine Strossen, President

Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001 USA
Phone: (202) 514-2000

American Library Association

50 East Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60611 USA
Phone: (800) 545-2433
Primary Contact: Keith Michael Fiels, Executive Director

USA Patriot Act (2001)

views updated May 17 2018

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.

USA PATRIOT Act of 2001

views updated May 17 2018


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.


views updated May 17 2018


The USA PATRIOT Act (or Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) was passed October 26, 2001, just six weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The act was designed to give the U.S. president the powers needed to conduct a war on terrorism. With the country still in shock after the terrorist attack, some politicians felt there was a need for American citizens to give up certain civil liberties (individual rights of Americans, such as freedom of speech and religion, which are protected by law against unwarranted governmental interference) in the interest of national security. However there was never a thorough public examination of what this meant. The 342-page PATRIOT Act was introduced by President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) and Congress passed it rapidly.

The USA PATRIOT Act granted a wide range of new powers to domestic law enforcement and intelligence agencies (government agencies responsible for gathering and interpreting information about enemies to the United States). President Bush, upon signing the act, said it would help law enforcement to discover and stop terrorists before they struck. The bill had several critics, however, and many considered parts of the PATRIOT Act a significant threat to American civil liberties.

Search and surveillance powers

Americans are protected from unnecessary searches and surveillance (close observation of someone under suspicion) under the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution). The Fourth Amendment states that government agents or law enforcement officers may only carry out searches and arrests after obtaining search or arrest warrants from the courts. Officers have to show a neutral judge “probable cause”—a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed. Under the Fifth Amendment all U.S. citizens have the right to “due process” of

Law meaning that no one can be deprived of their life, liberty, or property without a fair and adequate process, such as a court trial. An adjustment was made to these protections in the 1970s, when Americans learned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had been carrying out widespread surveillance of U.S. citizens, often because of their political beliefs or antigovernment positions. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) passed in 1978. It separated domestic investigations from foreign intelligence gathering so that surveillance of foreign agents could continue without restrictions while domestic (inside the United States) investigation methods were limited and overseen by the courts. FISA authorized warrantless (without search or arrest warrants) surveillance, but only when the purpose was to obtain foreign intelligence information.

The 2001 PATRIOT Act eased restrictions on searches and surveillance significantly. Government agents no longer needed to show that a crime had been committed in order to carry out searches on individuals. If they told a FISA judge that a search might be of use in antiterrorist efforts, the agents could demand an individual's records from banks, brokerages, libraries, travel agencies, video stores, telephone services, doctors, and places of worship without the person's knowledge. Similarly searches of people's homes or businesses could be made without showing probable cause. “Sneak and Peak” searches, in which the person being searched was unaware of the search, were authorized. Though FISA judges were to be consulted in these secret searches, their involvement amounted to what most people consider a “rubber stamp” and they had little oversight of the process.

Rulings about telephone and Internet surveillance also changed under the PATRIOT Act. Government investigators could obtain telephone and Internet records on an individual, showing communications coming into and going out of the phone or computer in question. To get permission for this, investigators simply had to claim that it might be relevant in a terrorist investigation. “Roving wiretaps” could be authorized by the FISA court. (A wiretap is an act of listening in on telephone conversations by a third party, usually without the knowledge of the callers.) Before the PATRIOT Act wiretaps were allowed in certain circumstances, but only on specific telephones. Roving wiretaps extended to any telephone or computer that a suspect used, roving from one telephone to another, with no particular target. Through this act government agents could tap the telephones of people whose only connection was that they might be acquainted with the suspect. Because these wire taps were so broad, oversight by the courts was nearly impossible.

New crimes and punishments

The PATRIOT Act created a new crime called “domestic terrorism ,” defined as “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States,” when the actor's intent is to “influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” Critics of the act were concerned that the definition of the crime was too vague and that people who engage in civil disobedience , such as civil rights and antiwar protesters in the 1960s, could be convicted as domestic terrorists and spend years in jail.

The act also set out new laws for immigrants. Any association with a terrorist, even if one had no knowledge of the individual being a terrorist, meant deportation back to one's home country. Under the act immigrants could be deported if a government agent believed they presented a threat to national security, even if there was no evidence to support that belief. Immigrants could be held for seven days without being charged with a crime and there was no court oversight of the process.

Reauthorization of the act, 2006

Many of the most controversial provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act were set to expire in 2005 unless reauthorized by Congress. These were called the sunset provisions. In 2005 Congress began a nine-month heated debate over reauthorization. During the debate the New York Times revealed that government agents in the Bush administration were conducting wiretaps on terrorist suspects without obtaining warrants from FISA judges, as required. President Bush claimed that he had wartime powers as president to authorize warrant less wiretaps.

The PATRIOT Act was reauthorized in March 2006, just days before it was set to expire. Some provisions were reworded or changed in minor ways, but the reauthorization made fourteen of sixteen sunset provisions permanent. One of the new requirements was for the Bush administration to provide reports to Congress on how the PATRIOT Act was being used.

President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act on March 9 in a public ceremony. Afterward he issued a “signing statement,” an official document laying out his interpretation of the law. In his signing statement the president stated that he was not obligated to report to Congress on how the PATRIOT Act powers were being put to use.


The United States government has always been safeguarded by a system of checks and balances among its three branches, the executive (president's administration), the judicial (the courts), and the legislative (Congress). Many of the provisions of the PATRIOT Act were designed to eliminate or ease the checks on the executive branch, particularly by limiting or getting rid of the oversight of the courts. The president argued that he needed that kind of unchecked power to fight the war on terrorists and save American lives. Many Americans disagree, believing that the system of checks and balances is vital to democracy and that a separation of powers among the three branches of government can be maintained without loss of security. They argue that in the past there have been many instances in which unchecked government interference led to the harassment of vital political movements and their leaders, as in cases such as the FBI investigations of civil rights leaders in the 1960s and illegal spying on antiwar protesters in the 1960s and 1970s.

Because the government has not reported on the uses of the PATRIOT Act, it is difficult to determine whether the act has succeeded in warding off terrorist attacks on the country. It is equally difficult to determine whether—or how much—it has resulted in unnecessary searches and surveillance of American people.