ISSN 2330-717X

Ten Years After USA Patriot Act, Concerns Of Further Civil Liberties Erosions

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On October 26, 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law the USA Patriot Act, which according to the Rutherford Institute in effect gutted the Bill of Rights.

In the opinion of the Rutherford Institute, ten years later, “whatever success America has had in routing out terrorists has been overshadowed by a society in which the police presence in America has exploded, with unconstitutional and SWAT team tactics increasingly condoned by the courts; the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty has been usurped by a new norm in which all citizens are suspects in a surveillance state; and the right to travel has been subjected to draconian security measures.”

“A law drafted in haste to safeguard America against terrorists has morphed into a dastardly justification for the end of basic freedoms in America,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “What began with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in the fall of 2001 has snowballed into a massive assault on our constitutional freedoms, our system of government and our fundamental philosophies and way of life.”

The Rutheford Institute argues that the Patriot Act – which was overwhelmingly passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and has since been renewed – “drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments—the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments—and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well.”

In the opinion of the Institute, the Patriot Act also redefined terrorism so broadly that many non-terrorist political activities such as protest marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience were considered potential terrorist acts, thereby rendering anyone desiring to engage in protected First Amendment expressive activities as suspects of the surveillance state.

The Patriot Act justified broader domestic surveillance and provided the government with “the perfect excuse for conducting far-reaching surveillance and collecting mountains of information on even the most law-abiding citizen.” Suddenly, for the first time in American history, federal agents and police officers were authorized to conduct black bag “sneak-and-peak” searches of homes and offices and confiscate personal property without first notifying individuals of their intent or their presence. The law also granted the FBI the right to come to one’s place of employment, demand one’s personal records and question one’s supervisors and fellow employees, all without notifying the person being investigated; allowed the government access to medical records, school records and practically every personal record about a person; and allowed the government to secretly demand to see records of books or magazines checked out in any public library and Internet sites visited (at least 545 libraries received such demands in the first year following passage of the Patriot Act).

Additionally, the Rutherford Institute argues that “in the name of fighting terrorism, government officials were permitted to monitor religious and political institutions with no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing; prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they told anyone that the government had subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation; monitor conversations between attorneys and clients; search and seize Americans’ papers and effects without showing probable cause; and jail Americans indefinitely without a trial, among other things. The federal government also made liberal use of its new powers, especially through the use (and abuse) of the nefarious national security letters, which allow the FBI to demand personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit companies at the mere say-so of the government agent in charge of a local FBI office and without prior court approval.”

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