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Patriot Act

Write at least 200 words describing how the scope of American law enforcement is changing as a result of the PATRIOT ACT, and if you feel that changes are justified by the fight against terrorism.

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Interesting question! Let's take a look at some of the changed provisions as a result of the PATRIOT ACT, and then look at the debate between the supporters and opponents to decide which arguments makes the most sense in terms of whether these changes are justified by the fight against terrorism.


1. Write at least 200 words describing how the scope of American law enforcement is changing as a result of the PATRIOT ACT, and if you feel the fight against terrorism justifies these changes.

In reaction to 9/11, the federal government raced to figure out what had gone wrong, what leads had been missed and what obstacles may have prevented investigators from discovering the plot. The result was the USA Patriot Act, which was signed into law on Oct. 26, 2001. Because of bipartisan concern in Congress about how the act would be used, lawmakers ensured that many of its central provisions would expire at the end of this year, unless they were reauthorized. Other portions of the act are not scheduled to expire, and are therefore being debated largely in the courts. The open-ended language of this provision has drawn particular criticism from civil libertarians, and according to Beeson, the ACLU attorney, "There is almost no limit to the kinds of information the FBI can access. That phrase, 'any tangible things,' covers a lot of ground. Is nothing private anymore?" ( However, proponents of the act, point out that investigators failed to find the 9/11 conspirator Mihdhar partly because of the limited range of records available to them. The Justice Department has stated that repealing or revising this provision "would return America to the level of vulnerability that existed prior to September 11, 2001."

The scope of the Patriot Act is extremely broad, but the controversy surrounding it has focused mainly on the enhanced surveillance and information-sharing it permits. The following information is draw form one source.

· The act dismantled much of the "wall" that prevented the sharing of information between law enforcement and intelligence officers, and it granted sweeping government access to library, business and Internet records -- records that would have been created as a result of Mihdhar and Hazmi using the library computers at William Paterson University.
· The act did this in subtle but significant ways -- revising existing laws, lowering legal standards in key areas and taking advantage of changing technology.
· It also changed some rules regarding the detention of immigrants.

· Perhaps most important, the law amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISHA) of 1978. FISA was created in response to Nixon administration programs that enlisted the CIA and FBI in monitoring political opponents and critics of the Vietnam War without warrants. FISA required any national security surveillance, such as searches and wiretaps, to be approved by a special national security court. The court, sitting in secret, could approve the surveillance based on a different, and lesser, standard than the one that applies in criminal cases. In criminal cases, the government must show probable cause to believe that a crime is imminent or has been committed. Under FISA, all the government had to show was probable cause that the target was an agent of a foreign power; this lower standard was justified because the purpose of FISA was to gather foreign intelligence, not to prosecute. The government had to certify that gathering intelligence was "the reason" for the order. FISA was essentially a compromise between Nixon's insistence on broad presidential powers and a congressional demand for oversight. The solution, according to Jonathan Turley, a constitutional scholar and law professor at George Washington University, "was to create a secret court that operated under relaxed standards."

· Under the Patriot Act, the standards for FISA warrants have been relaxed even further. Now, gathering foreign intelligence only needs to be "a significant reason" for the application. This provides a loophole -- in theory, at least -- for law enforcement to conduct surveillance of U.S. citizens without meeting the high standards that apply to criminal investigations. The fear among civil libertarians, according to Ann Beeson, an ACLU attorney, is that "the change would allow the government to get a secret FISA wiretap when the government's primary purpose was not ...

Solution Summary

This solution describes how the scope of American law enforcement is changing as a result of the PATRIOT ACT, and debates if the changes are justified by the fight against terrorism.