Patriot Act

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The USA Patriot Act is a controversial law that broadly expands the ability of the U.S. government to surveil both U. S. citizens and foreign nationals around the world. It was passed by a nervous U.S. Congress in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 Attack[1] and is still in effect today. The law expands the government's power to do secret searches and wiretaps without the accountability formerly required through judicial oversight and has been shown to be used predominately to fight domestic crimes such as drug dealing and fraud[2]. As well, the act allows the government to detain non-citizens for up to seven days without a trial and without being charged of a crime[3].


The Patriot Act permits the circumvention of a number of protections intended to be enacted by the Privacy Act of 1974 and its amendments, as well as the later Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). Described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) as representing a significant threat to civil liberties, privacy, and democratic traditions[4], the EFF says the Patriot Act gives

"sweeping search and surveillance to domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies and eliminates checks and balances that previously gave courts the opportunity to ensure that those powers were not abused."[4]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims that most parts of the law are unconstitutional, saying that it gives

"unchecked government power to rifle through individuals' financial records, medical histories, Internet usage, bookstore purchases, library usage, travel patterns, or any other activity that leaves a record"[5].


  1. Public Law 107–56, a.k.a. the Patriot Act, was made official on October 26, 2001.
  2. Wasn't the Patriot Act supposed to be about Stopping Terrorism? from the TechDirt podcast 9-8-2011
  3. After seven days, detained non-citizens must either be charged with a crime or deportation proceedings must begin.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Description of the dangers of the Patriot Act from the Electronic Frontier Foundation website, a non-profit defending civil liberties online
  5. How the Patriot Act may be unconstitutional from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)