American Civil Liberties Union

What is the Patriot Act and in what areas does it increase the government’s surveillance powers? Why is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) so concerned about the Patriot Act and the governments expanded information gathering powers? The federal statute, Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, or better known as the Patriot Act was signed into law in October 26, 2001, in the aftermath of the September the 11th terrorist attacks.

According to the American Library Association, an interest group vigorously opposing the Patriot Act, it broadly expanded law enforcement's surveillance and investigative powers, and amended more than 15 different statutes, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

(ALA, 2009) According to an article by Larry Abramson and Maria Godoy, the Patriot Act relaxes much of the individual freedoms and civil liberties won through the political vigilance and struggle of the American people. One provision of the statute includes the breaking down of the impediment between criminal and intelligence investigations, particularly of terror suspects, which under the previous legal situation, may only be done unless there exists a compelling need for a sharing of information between criminal and intelligence officers.

(Abramson, 2006) Moreover, the Patriot act authorizes the use of roving wiretaps with the need of prior court authorization. This, many civil libertarians believe, may allow the legal intrusion of government into the privacy of individuals in the guise of national security in the pursuit of terror suspects. The Patriot Act, under Section 215, may also order the access of records which may be related to a terror investigation. (ACLU, 2003) Civil liberty groups are concerned that private reading records of library patrons may be subject to investigation as well.

Search and seizure may also take place without the requisite notice to the person subject of a search and seizure. This, according to civil libertarians, would constitute another violation of the person’s right to privacy and domicile, in the guise of a terror investigation. (ACLU, 2003) A provision on the expansion of the definition of material support to terrorism to include expert advice or assistance is another contentious issue of the Patriot Act.

Civil libertarians are concerned that this provision may violate academic freedom failing to make a clear distinction between support for terror groups, national liberation movements, and revolutionary forces around the world. More so, any unwitting contact by a person to terror groups through the academe may be constituted as already providing material support for terrorism, hence subject to a terror investigation and prosecution under the Patriot Act. (Abramson, 2006) 2.

Find, Disrupt, and Destroy Al Qaeda. (2009) While it is commendable that the Obama Administration shall end hostilities in Iraq, it must be submitted that continuing military operations in Afghanistan may be in serious violation of international law on the use of force. In 2001, it was proper for the United States use military force on the Taliban government as they were the very sponsors of the Al-Qaeda, offering safe havens for training and ideological indoctrination.

At present, it is the US-supported regime of Hamed Karzai that is now in power in Afghanistan, and the Taliban, while growing in strength in the hinterlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan, cannot be considered state agents of terrorism now, precisely because they are now out of power. On the other hand, while Al-Qaeda remains a serious terrorist threat, it has now lost a state sponsoring its terrorist acts, therefore, American security forces seems to be without power or authority to continue military operations in Afghanistan without running afoul with international law on the use of force.

However, unless there exists a mutual defense agreement between the US and the new Afghan regime, continuing American military presence in Afghanistan may be legitimated.

References: 1.  (2009). “Homeland Security. ” The White House Website. Retrieved from http://www. whitehouse. gov/agenda/homeland_security/ on April 10, 2009. 2. Abramson, L. and Godoy, M. (2006). “The Patriot Act: Key Controversies. ” NPR. Retrieved from http://www. npr.org/news/specials/patriotact/patriotactprovisions. html#issue3 on April 10, 2009. 3. American Civil Liberties Union (2003) “Reform the Patriot Act. ” ACLU Website. Retrieved from http://action. aclu. org/reformthepatriotact/215. html on April 10, 2009. 4. American Library Association (2009). “The USA PATRIOT Act. ” American Library Association Website. Retrieved from http://www. ala. org/ala/aboutala/offices/wo/woissues/civilliberties/theusapatriotact /usapatriotact. cfm on April 10, 2009.