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The United States of America PATRIOT Act is an act that belongs to the United States Congress and was enacted by their former presidents George W. Bush in 2001. The initials of the act stand for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. It is therefore commonly referred to as the Act of 2001. The main of enacting this act into law was to discourage terrorism and also to offer a guide in punishing the acts of terrorism against the United States and also in other countries of the world. It was also to facilitate use of investigatory tools in enforcing law and other legal issues (Mathew, 2). Other purposes of the act include enhancing the measures taken by the United States in averting, detecting and dealing with those involved in money laundering internationally and also those involved in funding terrorist acts. The other purpose was to subject to inspection foreign authorities, financial institutions and other financial accounts held by foreign nations that may be susceptible to abuse by the criminals.
Finally, it was also aimed at enhancing measures that may be taken in preventing the U.S monetary system for individual gains by the corrupt international officials and also to assist in recovery of stolen properties to individuals from whom the property was stolen. However, the Patriot Act has faced a lot of controversy since it was enacted. This essay therefore looks at the controversies that are associated with the Act.
Controversies of Patriot Act
One of the controversies raised over the US patriot act is that the language used in some clauses of the act is too broad. One of the sections that is stated as too broad is the section 215 that gives power to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)to order for production of any touchable thing that belongs to the individual under investigation including his or her papers, books, records and other tangible items that are related to investigation procedures for terrorism. Even though section is amended as “Access to Certain Business Records for Foreign Intelligence and International Terrorism Investigation”, the range of the authority is too broad since it involves any relevant records that belong to the individual (Mathew, 3). These include records of medical issues, educational matters, and business records, all which are defined as “probable cause”. In this case, probable cause means availability of anything that may justify claims that a crime has been done, or that the materials being investigated may give proof of a crime. This should instead be stated that the tangible materials should be those related to the continuing investigations of crimes relates to terrorism. This definition of the materials under search is too broad since the act only guides on investigations on terrorism.
The other controversy is on section 802 that talks about “domestic terrorism” as a new federal crime. This definition goes beyond the scope of the term ‘terrorism ‘that means predetermined violence that is politically motivated and targets a civilian population. If their concept of domestic terrorism is followed, this means that government investigation and surveillance will also apply to activists who are caught in civil disobedience and others who associate with them. The definition of terrorism that is used in this act is too broad since it may also involve those who involve themselves in political protest if their acts become dangerous to human beings. This definition may result in high spirits of the US intelligence bodies in collecting and documenting information and also harassing those US citizens who engages in lawful activities that are protected by the act. The main concern of the civil democrats is that the enforcement powers that are given by the act may be misused by the intelligence agencies in targeting those people who are not involved in terrorism activities.
Infringement on US citizens
Some critics have also argued that U.S Patriot act also infringes on the rights of the US citizens and also limits their freedom. Some argue that with the changing political environment in America, the Act was passed as an unpatriotic tool of limiting the civil rights of the citizens and infringing on their freedom of speech. This is mostly associated with section 214 that allows for monitoring of communication for all the individuals under investigation. This involves monitoring the sources of his or her calls so long as the government can proof that the information is relevant to the issues under investigation. This is an infringement on the freedom of communication for the person under investigation (Smith, & Hung, 102)
The Act also allows the FBI to obtain records on bank transactions done by the individual, by issuing a National Security Letter (NSL)to confirm that the information is of use in a an open investigation. This may also be issued even to insurance companies, travel agencies, casinos, and other owners of businesses where the individual may do transactions suspected to be associated with crimes. This is a limitation to the rights of the citizens and freedom to normal daily operations. This is different from laws in other countries such as Australia where the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) may investigate and individual who is suspected of terrorism but only with a Questioning warrant. Detention should also be made under a Detention warrant ( Cain, 180).
The controversies of the US patriot Act are evident in that it is too broad and that it infringes on the rights and freedoms of the US citizens. This is also evident in other sections such as section 213 that allows for secret search of one’s residence and property without any notice. It is therefore necessary to amend the laws under the Act t make some definitions more specific and also to consider the rights and freedoms of the citizens.