This paper presents a brief overview and analysis of the U.S. Patriot Act (the Act) and discusses the positions of the President and the Congress toward the Act, followed by the author’s assessment of the political implications of the Act.
Although the power of the executive branch has expanded in matters of national security since the 1960s the enactment of the Patriot Act in response to September 11 has provided a further expansion of executive power. The Act makes changes to more than 15 existing Federal statutes, broadens the definition of terrorism, increases penalties for terrorists, expands the Federal Government’s power on wiretapping, and increases the scope of search warrants and subpoenas by lowering standards of probable cause. In addition, it facilitates information-sharing among law enforcement agencies, expands surveillance authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and restricts the rights of citizens and noncitizens. In post September 11, the Bush administration has been a moving force in initiating a “war” against terrorism. Congress supported the President as the head of the executive branch in this “war” initiative, believing that their constituents wanted to feel secure more than they wanted to hold the line on protecting their civil rights. The Congress, however, included “sunset” provisions for the Act, recognizing that public support for some of its features might wane over time. Therefore, if public support for the Act deteriorates, certain objectionable provisions of the Act will automatically expire. The author of this paper argues that counterterrorism polices should be acceptable to the public and to democratic principles over the long term. This suggests that legislators should adhere to the fundamental principles framed in the U.S. Constitution, regardless of the nature of the terrorist threat or the public’s current anxiety about security. 17 notes and 19 references
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