The most interesting part about the USA PATRIOT Act is its name itself! This intriguing and almost provoking title is in reality an acronym that stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. This Act is a statute passed by the United States Congress and further signed into law by former President George .W. Bush, after the gruesome incident of 9/11 which shook the nerves of the Americans.
Fact 1: The Act was passed 98-1 in the US Senate, making Russell Feingold (Russ) the only Senator, among the 99, to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001 citing that it infringed individual rights and implored upon citizen’s privacy – he later lost his seat in 2010.
Fact 2: One of the major sections of the Act, which Mr. Russell fought against, was permission to wiretap any conversation and phone calls without proper warrant form the judge. This is further justified by the Sen. Joe Biden to identify ‘lone wolves’; who are terrorists working independently.
Fact 3: The USA PATRIOT ACT is severely criticized as it challenges the Fourth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution which enables ‘the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures’.
Fact 4: Voting for the Act was triumphant as 98 in the US Senate and 357 in the House of Representatives, which are the two main Legislative bodies of the US Government, voted for the Act to be passed. However, the bill was 342 pages long and many members of Congress claimed not having read the bill before passing it.
Fact 5: Professor Steve Kurtz of Buffalo University who is also known for his work in BioArt took the real taste of the Act when he was arrested under the suspicion of “bioterrorism”, following his call to 911 reporting his wife’s death of congenital heart failure. As the BioArtist’s house was seized and searched for hazardous materials, none was to be found. Later, charges of mail and wire fraud – which carried an indictment of 20 years under the PATRIOT Act – were also dropped in 2008.
Fact 6: A new offence is created by the Act, penalising those who harbour terrorist or those amidst conspiring a terrorist offence like using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, bombing of governmental property and so on.
Fact 7: The news of Google being approached by the FBI to disclose and hand over data like name or addresses of particular users went viral on the internet two years back. This request was made through the provisions of PATRIOT Act under pretext of indentifying terrorist activities.
Fact 8: Besides challenging the Fourth Amendment, PATRIOT Act contradicts various other elements of the U.S. Constitution like freedom of speech and assemble (First Amendment), freedom of due process and law (Fifth Amendment), right to criminal defence, right to speedy and fair trial, and freedom from excessive and cruel punishment (Sixth and Eighth Amendment).
Fact 9: Intimidating, is also the title of ‘domestic terrorist’ that can be slapped onto any citizen who ‘breaks criminal laws’. This title can result the particular violator to be tried under the PATRIOT Act and endure severe punishment if convicted.
Fact 10: The PATRIOT Act amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court; which was created for ‘the purpose’ of regulating foreign intelligence gathering activities; by introducing a simple word; ‘significant’. This magical word now grants the Court an authority to issue secret warrants to investigate normal crimes as long as ‘a significant purpose’ is adhered to by the investigating officers. So when the regular Court denies a warrant, FISA Court approves it.