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The US PATRIOT Act is a statute passed by the American Congress on October 26, 2001, and signed by George W. Bush ("George W. Bush signs the Patriot Act," 2001). On May 26, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the PATRIOT Act Extension of 2011, a four-year extension of one of the three key conditions in this Act: roaming intercepts, business records searches, and monitoring of people suspected of terrorist-related activities but not affiliated with terrorist groups. Opponents of the measure condemned his decision to detain immigrants indefinitely. Permission granted by law enforcement personnel to search for a home or company without the owner's consent or knowledge; expanded use of national security letters, which allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to search for telephone, e-mail and financial reports without a court order (Rosen, 2011). Additionally, it was allowed to enhance access of law enforcement agencies to business reports, including a library and financial reports. Since its passage several legal problems have been brought against the act, and the Federal Courts ruled that many conditions are unconstitutional.
Nonetheless, in addition to the unprecedentedly broad powers that special services received in connection with the adoption of this law, the PRISM system (Program for Robotics, Intelligent Sensing and Mechatronics) was developed and adopted in 2007, and it was the most secret one at the time of its adoption. It allowed mass surveillance of a huge number of people, record, store and filter their negotiations over telephone networks and the Internet. The system became known after one of the NSA staff, Edward Snowden, in 2013 decided to report it to the public.
Additionally, The US PATRIOT Act was re-authorized by three accounts. First, this Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005, was referred by both chambers of the Congress in July 2005 (“Summary: H.R.3199 — 109th Congress (2005-2006)”). This bill reintroduced the provisions of the Act and the prevention of Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. It created new provisions relating to the death penalty for terrorists, increasing security in seaports, new measures to combat the financing of terrorism.
In general, this Act has made many changes to American Law. Key actions have changed due to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 1978, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act 1986, the Money Laundering Control Act 1986, and due to the Immigration and Nationality Act. The accident on September 11th has influenced the Congress’ actions and decisions significantly. After those attacks, the Congress immediately began work on several proposed antiterrorist accounts before the Justice Department finally drafted an account called the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001. It was introduced to the White House as providing the PATRIOT Act of 2001, and was later transferred by the White House as the Uniting and Strengthening America Act on 12th October.
The very first matter of the PATRIOT Act was that it contradicts the First Amendment. The bill included a number of issues that were mismatched with the constitution; however, it significantly strengthened the authority of the intelligence services and the US Department of the Interior, aspects related to freedom of speech were discussed particularly vigorously. Also, section 805 was approved by the Supreme Court of the United States, as the one that is full of violations. The same applies to other sections of the act that pose threats to freedom of speech, such as section 802 that gives a too broad definition of terrorism. Other sections of the Act, in particular Section 2, which served to modify the act on the foreign intelligence services of 1987, are by nature much less transparent.
Another example is the section 215 that allows the dispatch of national security letters to any organization and individual citizens. The most alarming is the paragraph on non- disclosure included in the text of the letter, which the recipient forbids to tell about the situation in which they fell. Nonetheless, this decree was not a result of Josh W. Bush’ management. Obama’s administration has tried to facilitate the process of sending these letters, often without a court decision; it is obvious that the administration was equally enthusiastic about the strengthening of the power structures’ power, like their predecessors.
The next issue faced by the American society was the probability to be “fooled” by the state. There are several arguments that would make the citizens worry about this issue. The first argument is that the government tends to abuse power and make decisions that ultimately harm those citizens whose interests they should have protected. However, the second argument implies the state of events if the Government could use its secret services reasonably, the public has a right to know about it and take part in making decisions that directly concern them. The reason is that otherwise the Government would stop perceiving people as citizens whose voices mean something.
Additionally, the two statements exhaust the arguments against giving the government such power, which is explained in the section 215 of the Act. However, there can be a third argument, which states the question: “why the very provision of such secret security structures to the state can provoke objections?” This argument does not have the weaknesses of the two previous ones. Unlike the first argument, the new argument does not state categorically that the Government will certainly have a tendency to abuse power, in the usual sense of the word. Unlike the second argument, the new argument does not imply that the secret actions of the government will necessarily violate the right to knowledge and the right to participate for the sake of knowledge and participation.
The problem of the restrictions on freedom of speech introduced by section 215 is considered as a cumulative effect (“The Patriot Act: What Is the Proper Balance between National Security and Individual Rights?”). Without a heavy-handed public debate about the “pros” and “cons” of various anti-terrorist strategies, with references to actual examples and experiences, we are unlikely to correctly identify the best criteria for determining what was considered as a good national security policy and what was not. The moral and ethical considerations were an assessment of what was acceptable and what was unacceptable in the exchange of freedom for security, which was best determined democratically-as well as practical considerations about the effectiveness of various strategic decisions evaluated outside the acoustic cameras of intelligence services.
According to this statement, it should not be assumed that the Government with the power structures would intentionally abuse power. Nonetheless, considering the fact that section 215 established the rules according to which a comparatively small group of people who are not protected from mistakes and have the right to decide what can be considered a serious threat to national security and which is not. The criteria by which those people made decisions might be imperfect, and over time their imperfection would intensify. The fact that several specially selected members of Congress have permission to monitor the distribution of “national security letters” was hardly enough to make sure that the process was democratically controlled.
According to this law, telephone conversations, SMS correspondence, as well as e-mails of any citizen could be subject to full control, if the special services deem it necessary to take these actions in connection with ensuring national security (Mullikin & Rahman, 2010). The FBI had the right to check which books the suspicious citizen took in the library, which sites he visited from computers installed in public places, and to request any additional information about a person in other government and commercial institutions. The US Senate abolished all these powers only six years later, in 2007. In fact, this Act was prolonged until 2019, but with great resistance of the Senate, which approved it only at the second attempt and with a minimal margin on votes. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, according was also violated: the search is illegal without a suspicion of a crime. However, apparently, the authorities suspect of possible crimes of all their citizens, so the logic of the Fourth Amendment loses its meaning.
Therefore, in order to extend the extension of the PATRIOT Act, it was urgent to create a new threat. It was considered as a cybercrime. The fact of the existence of crime on the Internet was difficult to deny, and there was no need to. However, considering it objectively, the damage from the actions of hackers was carried mainly by commercial structures, such as banks, corporations, online stores. It is clearly understandable, since the actions of hackers were motivated by the desire to steal money. Sometimes hacker communities attack the server of military departments, vote counting systems, some municipal resources. Nonetheless, it was not as real harm, threatening the lives of people and the security of the state, and therefore justifying such serious measures for comprehensive surveillance.
“George W. Bush signs the Patriot Act”. (2001). History.com. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/george-w-bush-signs-the-patriot-act. Accessed on 27 December, 2017.
Mullikin, A. & Rahman, S.M. (2010). “The Ethical Dilemma of the USA Government Wiretapping”. International Journal of Managing Information Technology (IJMIT), v. 2(4).
Rosen, Jeffrey. (2011). “The Patriot Act Gives Too Much Power to Law Enforcement”. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/09/07/do-we-still-need-the-patriot-act/the-patriot-act-gives-too-much-power-to-law-enforcement. Accessed on 27 December, 2017.
“Summary: H.R.3199 — 109th Congress (2005-2006)”. Congress.Gov. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/109th-congress/house-bill/3199. Accessed on 27 December, 2017.
“The Patriot Act: What Is the Proper Balance between National Security and Individual Rights?”. Constitutional Rights Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.crf-usa.org/america-responds-to-terrorism/the-patriot-act.html. Accessed on 27 December, 2017.
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