The USA PATRIOT Act in the wake of September 9/11

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The USA PATRIOT Act passed in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. It flows from a consultation draft spread by the Department of Justice, to which Congress prepared substantial modifications and additions. The stated reason for the Act is to enable law enforcement officials to track down and penalize those responsible for the attacks and to protect against any like attacks. The Act grants federal officials greater powers to trace and catch terrorists’ communications both for law enforcement and foreign intelligence intention. It reinforces federal anti-money laundering laws and regulations in an effort to deny terrorists the resources required for future attacks. It tightens our immigration laws to close our borders to foreign terrorists and to force out those among us. Finally, it creates a few new federal crimes, such as the one outlawing terrorists’ attacks on mass transit; increases the penalties for many others; and institutes several technical changes, such as a longer decree of limits for crimes of terrorism.

Recent amendments to the USA Patriot Act and associated legislation could expand the FBI’s ability to require self-storage operators to turn over documents. Rather than issue a subpoena the FBI can send a National Security Letter (NSL), demanding that a citizen turn over precise business documents and information.

The Patriot Act made four major inroads into previously well-established legal rights.

  • Secrecy: it provides for secret “sneak and peak” searches, secrecy of government and legal case information, secret evidence, and secretly collected personal information.
  • Criminalization of Dissent: a After the global shock of 9-11, guilt by association, deportation and exclusion of foreigners based only on their membership in suspect groups, increased penalties for humanitarian donations to organizations labeled by the government as “terrorist” and the overnight creation of a new category of “domestic terrorist” groups, took on a vigorous new life in prosecutorial and police circles.

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