The USA Patriot Act (USAPA) has now been with us for nearly a decade. There are those who insist that it has been a necessary and useful tool against terrorist activities on US soil, and there are those who think it is a dangerous extension of government power over individuals’ lives. In this article, we will explore what may be dangerous or subject to abuse, about the USAPA.
- Expanded Access to Personal Information Held by Others. A significant provision in the USAPA gives authorities the ability to force anyone –doctors, financial institutions, libraries, schools, internet providers, etc ., to reveal personal information that they have gathered about your activities. In doing so, it does not even have to be proven that there is any criminal activity connected to these records, and there is no effective judicial oversight for these actions.
- Gag Rules Applying to the Above Actions. Having forced an institution or business to give up your personal information, authorities are allowed to forbid said institution or business from telling you of that activity.
- Secret Searches. Authorities may, under another provision of the USAPA, perform warranted searches of your property without informing you until long after the search.
- Secret Confiscations. Along with the ability to search your home or other property secretly, authorities also have the ability to confiscate property without notice or receipts left behind to inform you of the confiscations.
- Church and Political Gatherings Surveillance. Under the USAPA, authorities may now conduct surveillance of churches or other religious activities, or any type of political gathering, without probable cause.
- Expanded Wiretap Authority. Authorities may also, under another provision of the USAPA, perform secret wiretaps on your phone(s) without the probable cause restrictions laid out in the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution.
- Roving Wiretaps. Under the USAPA it is no longer necessary for authorities to specify a telephone number or a particular computer for wiretapping, but allows them to tap and monitor every landline, cellular phone, computer, or any other electronic communications media to which you have access.
- Untargeted Wiretaps. Under the USAPA, authorities may tap into computers such as university libraries or public libraries, simply by asserting the possibility of a terror suspect using that computer. This authority can then be used to monitor and record computer activities by non-suspects, as well as the suspect used to justify the wiretap.
- Unknowing Associations Deportations. Non-US citizens who are in the country legally may be arrested and deported for association with those suspected of terror activities, even though they have no knowledge of such activities.
- Uncharged Detention Authority. Another provision of the USAPA allows authorities, simply by declaring an arrest as “related” to terrorism activities, detain a citizen for an indefinite period of time without charging them with a crime or allowing access to legal counsel.
So, whether you believe that the USAPA is a necessary evil, or a dangerous extension of executive branch power, or even if you support the need for it, wholeheartedly, you can surely see that there is much potential for abuse under its broad authority.