Here's Why the Patriot Act Is So Controversial | History


NARRATOR: In the wake of 9/11, President George W Bush

and his administration acted swiftly to expand

government surveillance powers.

But the measure was almost instantly controversial.

The terrorist organization Al-Qaeda coordinated four

attacks on major US landmarks.

In total, 2,996 people were killed on 9/11.

It was the most fatal attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor.

In response, President George W Bush and his administration

proposed a new law called the USA Patriot Act, or the Uniting

and Strengthening America by Providing

Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept

and Obstruct Terrorism Act.

The Patriot Act received overwhelming bipartisan support

from Congress.

In the Senate, the bill was passed

almost unanimously, 96 to one.

In the House, it was passed 357 to 66.

On October 25, 2001, the USA Patriot Act was signed into law

without any amendments.

For a bill that passed so quickly,

it was very long, and very dense.

Few lawmakers read it in full before they voted for it.

The law was also full of controversy

and quickly became the subject of a lot

of criticism and debate.

Many went so far as to call it unconstitutional.

The Patriot Act included all kinds

of new rules and amendments, particularly ones

about surveillance and national security.

It included amendments to the Wiretap Act.

This let police obtain court orders to spy

and eavesdrop on suspected cyber criminals and terrorists

by intercepting their phone calls,

emails, and any other form of communication.

It added credit card and bank account numbers

to a government-controlled database that could be

accessed with quote permission.

It also allowed government officials

to use trap and trace devices and conduct

sneak and peek searches.

Trap and trace devices can trace phone calls

to individuals and addresses.

Sneak and peek searches are searches where officials

or police can break into someone's home or office

and snoop around without their permission.

In other words, the Patriot Act made it easier for the FBI

to spy on Americans and search their homes.

Provisions in the Patriot Act also increased powers

to combat money laundering, tripled the number

of Border Patrol, Customs Service, and Immigration

and Naturalization Service personnel

along the northern US border, established

new terrorism-related grounds to detain or deport

foreign nationals, or deny them entry

into the US in the first place, and created

a new list of terrorist crimes.

But how does this translate into action?

People supporting the Patriot Act

argued that it increase the chances of catching terrorists

by granting more government access

and promoting cooperation between the CIA and the FBI

through information sharing.

The argument was often made that those without terrorist ties

would have nothing to hide from these agencies.

Since its conception, at least 50 terrorist acts

have been thwarted.

But it's hard to know if that's directly

related to the Patriot Act.

In actuality, the Patriot Act has done more to catch

drug dealers than terrorists.

Americans feel mixed about that.

Reducing crime across the board is considered

a good thing, a priority that crosses party lines.

But many Americans are skeptical of the government

using laws outside of their original intent.

Americans have also criticized the act

for being unconstitutional.

In particular, they took issue with section 215

for violating the Fourth Amendment, the protection

against unlawful searches and seizures

by permitting warrantless searches.

People also question section 505,

which allowed the government to impose gag orders,

as well as investigate people based on their speech.

Many saw this as a direct violation

of our First Amendment rights.

Others went on to criticize the act's implicit promotion

of racial profiling.

The American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU,

along with several US senators, took legal action

against the Patriot Act.

In 2004, judges struck some key provisions,

ruling them unconstitutional.

Over the years, some parts of the Patriot Act

have expired or been struck down,

while others have been renewed.

Since its inception, the Patriot Act

has garnered strong reactions.

Supporters argue it has allowed government agencies

to cooperate, made it easier to catch criminals,

and prevent future terrorist attacks.

Those against it see surveillance is dangerous,

and in violation of free speech, infringing

on the Bill of Rights with unclear

results when it comes to protecting

people from terrorism.

So the age old question remains, can

giving up constitutional rights help keep us safe?

Or does it take away liberties without giving

us added protection?