2001 October 26

Congress Passes the USA PATRIOT Act – Civil Liberties Violations Follow


In response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Adequate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The law included many provisions that threatened civil liberties: (1) The law included expanded search and seizure authority, notably “sneak and peek” search warrants (permitting searches without the knowledge or consent of the owner of the property), roving wiretaps, and expanded FBI authority to obtain “any tangible thing” related to suspected terrorism. (2) National Security Letters, which allow the FBI to obtain a broad range of materials, including financial and library records, without a court order. (3) Expanded the authority of the FISA court. Section 215 of the law, for example, was used by the National Security Agency for greatly expanded surveillance of Americans [see the controversy over the NSA resulting from the documents released by Edward Snowden, beginning on June 5, 2013]. (4) Criminal penalties for “material support” of terrorist organizations, which came to include providing expert advice or humanitarian assistance. (5) Indefinite detention of immigrants suspected of terrorist activities. Many of the procedures offensive to civil libertarians were actually expansions of authority in existing laws (e.g., obtaining financial records without a warrant).

Only one senator, Russ Feingold (D–Wisconsin), voted against the bill, and only 66 members of the House voted against it. It has been alleged that no U.S. Senator actually read the bill before voting for its passage.

Read: David Cole and James X. Dempsey, Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties In The Name Of National Security, 2nd ed. (2006)

Watch ACLU President Susan Herman Discuss Civil Liberties and the War on Terrorism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVAOz_SI5JQ

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