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Repeal the USA Patriot Act
by Jennifer Van Bergen
t r u t h o u t | April 1, 2002
is the first in a six-part series of articles on the USA Patriot Act:
"Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools
Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism."
Act, passed in response to the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks
on our country, was passed hastily and in a time of fear. It affects
all of us in some very basic and important ways.
Part I of this series states briefly why we should demand the immediate repeal or amendment of the USA Patriot Act.
II walks the reader back in time to look at two acts, which were also
passed hastily and in a time of fear. The Alien & Sedition Acts of
1798 parallel the USA Patriot Act in many respects, and offer some
III discusses the recent emergence of troubling evidence of violations
of civil rights under the USA Patriot Act, and looks at the disturbing
possibility of torture being used.
IV and V look at specific sections of the Act. Part IV covers how the
Act mixes criminal law and foreign intelligence work, puts the CIA back
in the business of spying on Americans, allows law enforcement to enter
your home without you knowing it, and can track your emails and
internet activity. Part V will discuss how the Act punishes some people
for engaging in innocent First Amendment associational activity,
violates other civil rights of immigrants, uses secret evidence, curbs
judicial oversight, and invades financial and student records.
VI discusses national security concerns, sums up, and closes with a
potent exhortation to Americans, made over 200 years ago by Senator
Part I: This Law is Dangerous
USA Patriot Act is an insult to Americans. The name, itself, is
insulting, given what the Act contains and what it will someday be
known for: its complete abdication of democratic law and principles. It
should be called the Constitution Shredding Act.
particular, it utterly relinquishes any semblance of due process,
violates the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments, and
unacceptably mixes aspects of criminal investigations with aspects of
immigration and foreign intelligence laws.
Let me state it even more bluntly. This law is dangerous. It�s a travesty.
What is worse is that few Americans have the slightest idea what this law contains or what it means.
is this? Because, the USA Patriot Act has several clever catches in it
that have enabled it to slip by the awareness of the average
law-abiding citizen. First, it relates mostly to foreign nationals. (So
it can�t affect U.S. citizens, right? Wrong.) Second, it deals with
terrorism. (And we�re not terrorists, are we? Don�t be so sure.)
you think this law applies only to the bad guys who attacked our
nation, think again. Many provisions in this law apply to and will
affect Americans, in many, bad ways.
is more frightening about it is that, despite the fact that the USA
Patriot Act was passed hastily without any debate or hearings and under
a cloak of fear, its provisions were obviously very carefully thought
out and crafted to take power out of the hands of courts and ensure
absolute lack of oversight of law enforcement and intelligence
is no way that the USA Patriot Act came into existence solely in
response to September 11th. In fact, it is clear from prior legislative
and case history that law enforcement and intelligence have been trying
for many years to obtain these powers. It is only the unreasoning
"bunker mentality" that followed September 11th that allowed its
planners to pass it.
one might question whether Congress could sincerely have intended this
Act, given that portions of it are re-enactments of the 1996
anti-terrorism laws which had been repeatedly ruled unconstitutional by
federal courts. One must wonder whether congress- persons were in their
right minds. If they were not, this law cannot be valid.
troubling is that most of these powers do little to increase the
ability of law enforcement or intelligence to bring terrorists to
justice � but, they do much to undermine the Constitution and violate
the rights of both immigrants and American citizens alike.
reason why Americans do not yet know what a terrifying weapon has been
put in their government�s hand is that the Act is extremely nuanced and
amends numerous other laws.
provision, for example, merely amends the words of an earlier act,
which had read "the purpose," to read "a significant purpose." What
difference could that tiny change make? It opens the door for the FBI
to evade the probable cause warrant requirement in criminal
investigations whenever the FBI decides the information might have "a
significant purpose" in an intelligence investigation. No court can
other words, the legal protection that a court must determine that
there is probable cause of criminal activity before a search or seizure
can be made is totally discarded here. If the FBI thinks the
information might contribute to an investigation, whatever the target�s
activity might be, legal or not, the FBI can simply go search and
seize. (And under the new "sneak and peek" provisions, they can do so
without you ever knowing it.)
also that this clause mixes foreign intelligence gathering with
domestic criminal investigation, allowing the FBI to spy on Americans
whom no court has determined have done anything wrong.
this information, under another provision of the Act, can now be shared
with the CIA, in violation of its charter, which bars it from engaging
in domestic spying.
the ACLU analysis of this section states, this simple little clause is
being used "as an end-run around the Fourth Amendment." It is a "power
grab [that] will sweep in Americans" as well as aliens.
It behooves us to take a good, solid look at the USA Patriot Act, so we can tell our representatives what we think of it.
we will take a walk back in time to look at two acts that were also
enacted hastily in a time of fear. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
parallel the USA Patriot Act in several respects and offer some
Van Bergen holds a law degree from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law,
is an adjunct faculty member at the New School for Social Research in
New York, and is a member of the Board of the ACLU Broward County,
Jennifer Van Bergen is an Editor and a regular contributor to t r u t h o u t.
Repeal the USA Patriot Act
| Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI |
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