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Soon after the terrorist attack on twin towers of the World Trade Centre Congress passed the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” Act also known as the Patriot Act. The purpose of adopting this document was noble and needed: government had an intention to find and fight terrorists that operate within the borders of the United States. However, the repercussions of this deed were mostly negative. And the results are still questionable: there are no visible victories of the United States over terrorists, and the Act is considered to violate the U.S. Constitution – the document aimed to protect American rights and freedoms.
It seems that the Patriot Act was created in order to survey thoughts and actions of citizens, eliminate the opportunities to criticize the government and, in fact, this Act is actual permission to spy on any citizen of the United States. Even upstanding American citizens can become targets of Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance simply because of the manner in which they exercise their First Amendment rights (Beeson). Inference should be drawn that the Patriot Act failed to protect American freedoms, instead, it exposes citizens to potential abuses of power.
The only Senator who voted against the Patriot Act was Senator Feingold. He clearly explained his decision and these arguments are still currently central: “we will lose that war [on terrorism] without firing a shot if we sacrifice the liberties of the American people.” (Feingold, Russell. 12 October 2001).
It is clear that the Patriot Act is unconstitutional. But is it at least workable? No less than 42 terrorist attacks aimed at the United States have been thwarted since 9/11. Tools like the Patriot Act have been instrumental in finding and stopping terrorists. Shouldn’t we have a long range extension of the investigative powers contained in that act? (Ed Meese of the Heritage Foundation on Fox19, 2011). There were at least 30 documented instances of terror thwarted since 9/11. However, none of them were prevented with help of actions provided under the rule of the Patriot Act. More than that, all listed incidents are told to be not prevented, these were failed attacks that should be prevented by the Act. For example, Richard Reid created a shoe bomb, but his bomb didn’t detonate. (List of unsuccessful terrorist attacks).
More than that, FBI agents admit that within 5 years from 2004 to 2009 the spying under Section 215 of the Patriot Act was increased by three times. But according to the report of Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz made in 2015, there was any single case that was solved, or one single terrorist act that was thwarted through the use of these Patriot Act provisions. All solved or prevented cases of terrorist attacks were completed using traditional techniques and tactics.
Still, FBI insists on the necessity of keeping Section 215 because the information they collect is considered to be “valuable”, although it turn out to be useless in terms of solving crimes.
It is obvious that the Patriot Act is not just unconstitutional, but also ineffective and abusive – the government of the United States should search for more workable solution for struggling with terrorism.
Beeson, Ann, and Jameel Jaffer. July 2003. “Unpatriotic Acts: the FBI’s Power to Rifle Through Your Records and Personal Belongings Without Telling You.” ACLU. ACLU Foundation.
Feingold, Russell. 12 October 2001. “Senator Feingold’s Speech Explaining Why He Voted Against the Patriot Act (Excerpts).” Facts on File News Services.