Study Guide

1. What is the Patriot Act?

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11 Congress passed into law the Patriot Act. The primary purpose of this law is to aid law enforcement in hunting down and prosecuting terrorists. Among other things the Patriot Act amends immigration laws, banking and money laundering laws, and foreign intelligence laws. The Patriot Act broadens the authority of the federal government and extends its powers primarily in intelligence gathering. It does this in part by defining a new type of criminal activity: Domestic Terrorism. No other legislation has sparked as much controversy as the Patriot Act in the past several years. Critics of the act charge that it has eroded civil liberties and allowed the government to invade average American's privacy while proponents of the act proclaim that it is both necessary and constitutional.

2. What do its supporters have to say?

Proponents of the Patriot Act, such as former Attorney General John Ashcroft and current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, proclaim that the Patriot Act has helped law enforcement officials in apprehending and prosecuting hundreds of would-be terrorists. They also claim that the federal agencies given extra intelligence gathering powers, such as the FBI, are not abusing those powers. These claims however can not be verified due to the very nature of the Patriot Act. Many of its provisions call for secrecy and as such the people who have the statistics either can not or will not release them to the public. There are only a few sections of the Patriot Act that have really sparked controversy. Most of the act enjoys bi-partisan support, with its supporters claiming that the provisions are both needed additions to help keep Americans safe and that the provisions do not step over any civil liberties.

3. Opposing the Patriot Act

The most controversial of all the provisions of the Patriot Act are those provisions allotted for in section 215. This section deals with amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with regards to the access of records and other items. Organizations such as the ACLU have several complaints against this section. These complaints as they relate specifically to the internet and technology include the ability of the FBI to "spy" on American citizens without having to demonstrate probable cause. This allows the FBI to obtain information on a person's online activity so long as they claim it is to protect against international terrorism.

4. Looking Ahead, what does the future hold for the Patriot Act?

Sixteen provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire on December 31st, 2005. Among these provisions is the controversial section 215. In July of 2005, both the House of Representatives and the Senate met and both bodies drew up and passed bills that would renew the provisions with several key differences. The house voted to extend indefinitely all of the anti-terrorist provisions except for the two provisions allowing federal agents to use roving wiretaps and to search library and medical records, which were limited to a ten year renewal. The Senate however, has voted to put four year expiration dates on the same two provisions. A joint House-Senate committee will debate and approve a final version of the bill during the Fall congressional session.
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