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Patriot Act

The USA PATRIOT Act is an Act of Congress that was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. The abbreviation, as well as the full title, have been attributed to Chris Cylke, a former staffer on the House Judiciary Committee.

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Who Exactly is the Terrorist Now? America’s constitutional rights are slowly deteriorating, one by one, to the point of becoming obsolete since the USA PATRIOT Act passed, by a panicked Congress, a mere 45 days after the September 11th tragedy. Because of the controversy behind its contents it took Congress an extra two and a half months after its expiration to make numerous provisions to the bill before they finally reinstated it. One reason behind the delay in reinstatement is because the bill gives law enforcement and intelligence agencies the power to deny the American people many of their constitutional rights. Even though the USA PATRIOT Act has caused tremendous upheaval, even among Congressional members, on May 26, 2011, President Barack Obama reauthorized key provisions of the bill. This bill erodes the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights given to all Americans on September 17, 1787. The government, also known to Americans as “Big Brother,” keeps taking away Americans rights with the excuse that they are just trying to keep America safe. Naomi Wolf wrote an article, which was published in The Huffington Post, titled “Ten Steps To Close Down an Open Society.” Wolf’s article explains that there are ten steps the government takes to turn an open society into a democracy, and also explains how those steps have already been taken here in the United States. Wolf states that the first step is to, “Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy” (para 7). This step became painfully evident when President Bush declared “War on Terror” on September 20, 2001, only nine days after the World Trade Center attacks. He continued by saying, “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done” (PBS para 6). Since President Bush addressed the American public with this message, all Arabs, Muslims, or truthfully any dark skinned Easterner instantly became America’s enemies. In reality, the Islamic group al-Qaeda were the only ones who took responsibility for the attacks. Some would think that with the death of their leader Osama bin Laden in May 2, 2011 the terrorist group would no longer be a threat. The government has yet allowed this to ring true. Michael Rivero, the author of the website “What Really Happened,” sums it up the best, “It's the oldest trick in the book, dating back to Roman times; creating the enemies you need.” President Bush and his peers thought up this evil enemy, Osama bin Laden, and evoked extreme terror amongst Americans. Yet, now that he is reportedly dead how will they keep the terror alive. To this day, the government keeps the terrorist enemy alive with, almost daily, news reports of new leadership and a regrouping of this terrorist group. The Washington Post reported today, “Al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri is said to have ordered terrorist attack; U.S. citizens urged to leave Yemen” (para 1). The reason that they have the need of keeping this enemy alive is to continue to strip Americans of their civil rights. Even Dr. Ivan Eland, a Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute, states “… it is they who have scared Americans into preferring “security” at the expense of civil liberties” (para 4). How many liberties are the American people willing to lose just to keep America safe? Naomi Wolf’s fourth step in turning an open society into a democracy is, “Set up internal surveillance” (para 24). The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution states that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…” (pg 17). Yet with section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act states that officials may, “… order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)…” (pg 16). With the revised wording of this bill, the government is now allowed to search, obtain, and keep any records of any individual's personal activity that is held by any third party. These third parties include, but not limited to, banks, doctors, internet providers, cell phone providers, charities, advocacy groups and pretty much anywhere they can obtain any personal information. The list of information that they can now obtain is even more overwhelming. The full unconstitutional list includes, but is not limited to, medical records that include genetic information, psychiatric and counseling records, social service files, academic transcripts, bookstore purchases, personal belongings, books, letters, journals, library records, charitable contributions, airline reservations, hotel records, political party participation reports, subscription lists to any periodicals or magazines and even membership lists of any particular church, temple, or synagogue. The scariest, and most unconstitutional, piece of information that the government is able to obtain without a warrant or probable cause is personal computers. The computers that they confiscate can be from home or work. Along with the confiscated computers, they have the right to the history of everything that any person has ever done on those computers, every single keystroke. The government can also request that all internet and telephone service providers provide them with logs of personal emails, internet cookies, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, voicemails, texts, IM’s, and even GPS tracking records so they can see every place a Smartphone has been carried. With this act, the FBI does not even need a reason or “probable cause” to obtain personal information anymore. The Guardian newspaper reported that the National Security Agency (NSA) has the right and ability to, “allow analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals” (para 1). They continue the report saying that with the use of databases, the main one called “XKeyboard”, analysts are able to “mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search” (para 7). Because of this new Digital Network Intelligence (DNI) analysts have complete access to "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet", including the content of personal emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata” (para 8). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report that they have filed a legal challenge against the USA PATRIOT Act to “taking aim at a section of the controversial law that vastly expands the power of FBI agents to secretly obtain records and personal belongings of innocent people in the United States, including citizens and permanent residents” (para 1). There were three major reasons behind this legal challenge. The main reason is it, “Violates the First Amendment because it allows the FBI to easily obtain information about a person's reading habits, religious affiliations, Internet surfing and other expressive activities that would be "chilled" by the threat of investigation…” (para 6). The second reason is because it, “Violates the Fourth Amendment by allowing the FBI to search and seize records or personal belongings without a warrant, without showing probable cause -- and without ever notifying even innocent people of the searches…” (para 5). The last reason is because the USA PATRIOT Act, “Violates the First Amendment by imposing a gag order" that prohibits those served with Section 215 orders from telling anyone -- ever -- that the FBI demanded information, even if the information is not tied to a particular suspect and poses no risk to national security” (para 7). They continue by saying that many lawmakers of all political levels have already started reconsidering “controversial” parts of this act. One main controversial part is it allowed the government to unconstitutionally search homes, offices, and third party information without informing people until weeks afterwards. For that reason, “an overwhelming majority of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to bar the Department of Justice from executing sneak and peek searches in criminal investigations” (ACLU para 12). The government wants the law to allow them to strip away American’s civil rights, and to give them the ability mistreat citizens without even having to prove probable cause or suspicion of terroristic activity. So who does the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) currently consider as a terrorist? What exactly does a person have to do to be monitored for suspicious activity? The FBI has released twenty-five new flyers that “are distributed to local businesses in a variety of industries to promote suspicious activity reporting” (para 1). Doing or saying anything that is on these lists can put anyone in danger of being targeted as a terrorist. The problem with these flyers is that they have targeted pretty much every person in the United States. The first flyer is for the “general” public. The list of characteristics to be aware of is, making unusual requests for information that include questions regarding facility operations, people that are overdressed for the weather, note taking, drawing of diagrams, annotating maps, inappropriate photographs or videos. On the back of the flyer it states, “Terrorism may be national or international in scope, but terroristic incidents occur locally and are preceded by a number of pre-incident activities.” Next is Potential Indicators of Terrorist/Criminal Activity Related to Airport Service Providers. The few of the characteristics include significantly altered appearance (shaving beard, hair color, style of dress), burns on hands or body, chemical bleaching of skin or hair, nervous or secretive behavior, sweating, avoids eye contact with police/security, appears to be monitoring access points, use of cellphone cameras, and even body language consistent with “photo panning” of an area with a hidden camera. Lastly, many of these publicly distributed flyers include a characteristic that most married couples do and that is, to use cash for transactions or a personal credit card in someone else’s name. These are just a few examples of the many disturbingly normal characteristics that can allow the government, or any public business, to consider any person to be a terrorist and to have the right to contact the authorities with that “suspicious” persons identifying information. Due to the constant threat of terrorism, the American government has had to “beef up” all types of security. This means that every time a US citizen wants to take a trip and chooses to take it by plane they will have to succumb to many heightened, and overzealous, security measures. Firstly, the lines are tediously long due to the amount of personal information and the many times that a proper state issued identification (ID), or passport, will have to be shown just to obtain a boarding ticket. If the passenger has to check luggage, to go under the plane, said luggage cannot be locked and will be subjected to a physical search and x-ray scan before being placed in the luggage area of the plane. Once at the security gate, travelers will have to show proper ID again and take off their shoes, jacket, jewelry, hat, and take anything that is metal out of clothing pockets and place it on an x-ray screening conveyor belt. Any carry-on luggage, including laptops, also has to be screened. The carry-on luggage will then be opened and physically searched by airport employees. The passenger then has to walk through a screening device that searches for metallic and nonmetallic threats. If the detector beeps, then the passenger has to succumb to a handheld device check and possibly a physical pat down. Once the passenger gets all personal belongings together again they then have to proceed to the gate where they will be boarding. Once at the boarding gate, the passenger will have to show the agent their boarding ticket and ID, again, to be able to board the aircraft. All of this heightened security is said to be for the safety of all Americans. It is true that some additional security measures were needed after that tragic day of September 11th, 2001. Yet to what extent is such heightened and exaggerated security measures needed that they take away America’s privacy and civil rights? Criminals are not the only people seeking privacy. Everyone wants and deserves their personal space and privacy. For this very reason doors, curtains, locks, and even fences were invented as measures of privacy. So allowing people to use the excuse, “You have nothing to fear as long as you have nothing to hide” makes it seem as if even the everyday Joe is a criminal. Whatever happened to, “innocent until proven guilty”? It seems as if now days everyone in the United States, illegal immigrants or US citizens alike, are actually guilty until proven innocent. One by one, American’s constitutional rights are slowly deteriorating, being stripped by the government that is supposed to be protecting them, when will this madness stop? Ronald Regan once said, “"If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth." The definition of terrorist is a person who employs terror or terrorism, especially as a political weapon. Well it seems that the American government is doing a great job of being terrorists towards their own people. Works Cited American Civil Liberties Union. Because Freedom Can't Protect Itself. N.p.30 July 2003. Web. 6 Aug. 2013. . Eland, Ivan. "Comparing Obama and Bush on Civil Liberties and War." The Independent Institute (2011): 9 pars. Web. 06 Aug. 2013. . Federal Bureau of Investigation. Public Intelligence. Private, 1 Feb. 2012. Web. 6 Aug. 2013. . Greenwald, Glenn. "XKeyscore." The Guardian 31 July 2013 [New York ] . Web. 7 Aug. 2013. . Nakashima, Ellen, and Anne Gearan. "Al-Qaeda Leader Zawahiri is Said to Have Ordered Terrorist Attack; U.S. Citizens Urged to Leave Yemen." The Washington Post 5 Aug. 2013. Web. 5 Aug. 2013. . PBS.ORG. "President Bush Addresses Congress." PBS.ORG. Washington D.C. 20 Sept. 2001. Web. 5 Aug. 2013. . Rivero, Michael. What Really Happened. Ed. Michael Rivero. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2013. . United States. Cong. House of Representatives. “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001.1st Session Cong. H. R. 3162. Washington: GPO, 2001. Print. Wikipedia contributors. "Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Aug. 2013. Web. 5 Aug. 2013. Wolfe, Naomi. "Ten Steps To Close Down an Open Society." The Huffington Post 24 Apr. 2007 [New York City] . Web. 5 Aug. 2013. .

Contributed by Angela Garcia-Ascencio

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