On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked in a brutally violent way. Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives in a couple of hours. In the wake of the attacks, Congress passed a law – the USA PATRIOT Act – that broadens definitions of terrorism, toughens sentences for convicted terrorists, and generally makes it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to gather and share reams of information – some related to terror investigations and some not. The USA PATRIOT Act stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism." This bill was signed into law with little debate on October 26, 2001, only 45 days after the attacks that rocked our country. The vote in favor of the law was overwhelming and bi-partisan – 98 to 1 in the US Senate and 357 to 66 in the US House of Representatives. Yet, the bill was 342 pages long, and many members of Congress now say they did not even read it before voting in favor. Author Steven Brill (2003) asserts in his book, After: Rebuilding and Defending America in the September 12 Era, that the version of the USA PATRIOT Act voted on by Congress was not the bill that had been approved in committee and that had been endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Additionally, no conference report was included when the bill was presented to the Congress, meaning the compromise product negotiated by the conference committee was not submitted to each chamber of Congress for its consideration.The stated purpose of the USA PATRIOT Act was: "To deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes." It is these "other purposes" that have legal experts and normal citizens very worried. This law is very complex and it modifies several existing laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, Pen Register and Trap and Trace Statute, Money Laundering Act, Immigration and Nationality Act, Money Laundering Control Act, Bank Secrecy Act, Right to Financial Privacy Act, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (Electronic Privacy Information Center, 2003). For the first two years under the law, no one knew for sure just how the USA PATRIOT Act was actually being used, mostly because the Justice Department resisted virtually all requests for information based upon claims that the information is classified in order to protect national security. Part of the problem with the USA PATRIOT Act is that its implementation has been so secretive. In the more than three years since the law was passed, at least five important realities have come to light that contradict Justice Department claims about the non-threatening nature of the USA PATRIOT Act. First, there are dozens of cases where the USA PATRIOT ACT has already been used in the investigation of alleged non-terrorist crimes involving American citizens. The Justice Department is using warrants it receives from the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court to obtain permission to investigate Americans in cases where regular criminal courts would not grant warrants (Letter to Representative James Sensenbrenner, 2003).
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