The USA Patriot Act: Legal, Yes, But Unethical

The USA Patriot Act: Legal, Yes, But Unethical

The Patriot Act is a constitutional violation.
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The United States government is in a constant battle trying to protect its people from terrorist attacks.

As a part of that effort, Congress passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act in October of 2001, "arming law enforcement with new tools to detect and prevent terrorism." It is more commonly known as the USA Patriot Act, and it was enacted 45 days after the terrorist attacks on September 11. The Bush Administration promoted the law after four separate attacks were organized in New York City and Washington D.C. The Patriot Act was proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft and was intended to uncover terrorist activity.

Instead, it started a massive invasion of privacy, unjust detention of immigrants, and violations of the U.S. Constitution. This law gives the government permanent powers that infringe on American civil liberties.

The Attacks

On September 11, members of the terrorist group Al Qaeda hijacked four American planes with intent to crash them. These suicide attacks took the lives of thousands of civilians. Two of the planes, one from American Airlines the other from United Airlines, crashed into the World Trade Center, in New York City. The third was also an American Airlines plane. It crashed into the Pentagon and destroyed the west side. The fourth plane, from United Airlines, was targeting a landmark in Washington D.C., and fortunately was unsuccessful. Passengers on board fought the attackers and took down the plane. It crashed in a field near Shanksville, PA. There were no survivors.

There is not a definition of terrorism that is universally accepted among all scholars, but the one I prefer defines it as the use of violence, or the threat of violence, in the pursuit of a political aim. Terrorism is designed to instill fear within and to intimidate a wider target audience. John Whitehead believes, “extremists who perpetrated the attacks did not want to simply destroy American landmarks of industry and government, they wanted to destroy America as America, to demolish the foundations upon which American culture and freedom are built.”

The case of September 11, is an example of international terrorism. A group from another country invaded the U.S., with intent to cause violence on a large scale, resulting in a mass amount of casualties. There are several terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, who wish to destroy America and its people. The government has been using newly found power, granted about ten years ago by the USA Patriot Act, to seek out these groups in order to prevent further attacks.

Infringement of Rights

Under the USA Patriot Act, it is now legal for law enforcement officials and government officials to perform searches of homes or offices without giving prior notice. The Patriot Act enhances government surveillance abilities by allowing them to monitor phone conversations of individuals suspected of criminal activity, without probable cause. They also have the right to “overhear private conversations of nonsuspects permitted by the extension of roving wiretap authority to foreign intelligence investigations without proper privacy protections.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but how is this not a direct violation of the fourth amendment, which provides “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." Listening to private telephone conversations is an example of conducting an unreasonable search, especially to those who are not under suspicion of illegal activity.

This sort of unfair treatment is why the founders of our country drafted the constitution. They fought for the democracy we live in today. They risked their lives to have this freedom, but we were so quick to give it up. Have the priorities of the people changed that much, or does post-attack fear influence the way people vote? The Bush Administration took this as an opportunity to obtain more power. They offered a higher level of safety under some condition, a violation of civil liberties. If the campaign for the USA Patriot Act had not been immediately after 9/11, maybe the people would have voted on it differently.

“Protecting” The People

To gain the support of the people, President George W. Bush gave a speech addressing the fear of terrorism. He claimed that America was facing an “enemy we have never faced.” He described the enemy as hidden but promised to find and conquer them. It is natural to be afraid and to want more protection, but it is important to always weigh the costs. Was it necessary to give our government such a permanent power in a temporary situation? The surveillance of private conversations is a breach of American rights and we the people should not tolerate it.

In addition to the powers granted by the USA Patriot Act, the United States government spends more than any other state on its national defense. In fact, the U.S. spends more than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom, India, and Germany combined, netting a total of $601 billion. Not including the U.S., these are the top seven countries that invest the most in their national security. “Defense spending (in the U.S.) accounts for almost 20 percent of all federal spending — nearly as much as Social Security, or the combined spending for Medicare and Medicaid.”

Spending more than the next seven countries combined on national security should be enough of a safety measure to ensure reasonable protection. If the United States is spending significantly more than any other country on national security, then there should be no question as to whether or not we could win any given war. Including the war on terrorism. The battle will be costly, and lives will be lost. But we can’t stop every bad man who wants to take down the world and forfeiting our privacy in hopes that we can is, well, foolish.

Is it necessary and essential that the government, on top of the billions of dollars spent on defense, monitors the telephone calls, text messages, and e-mails of every individual? It is impossible to completely stop terrorism. At what point does the opportunity cost of new security implications outweigh the protections offered by them? It is up to the people to make this distinction by voting for what they believe in. If something is unconstitutional, the only way it can be overturned is if we stand together and protest it. The first step in doing this is recognition; it is time to educate the public on this issue so the Patriot Act can be overturned.

The Dirty Truth

There are some sides of the USA Patriot Act that most people are unaware of. For one, it resulted in the unjust detainment of many illegal aliens. To prevent any further attacks, people who could not present proper documentation to prove citizenship were arrested when the law was first enacted. Several hundred immigrants were brought into government custody to be held without bail for an unnoted amount of time. “Under the new law, immigrants ‘certified’ as threats to national security must be held in government custody without bond pending deportation proceedings and removal from the country. Detention could become indefinite for those aliens found to be deportable but whom other countries decline to accept.” This made it legal for large groups of people to be arrested and jailed based on their nationality or race. It made it possible for people who were never proven guilty of committing any crime to fear spending life in prison.

Each of these detainment cases is a breach of the constitution. Holding someone without bail and without issuing them a court date is a violation of the Sixth Amendment. Everyone in the United States has the right to a speedy trial. “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” Since the constitution has been enforced by government and law officials for over 228 years it is prejudice, illegal, and contradictory to make an exception to the constitution simply because this generation of politicians thinks that it is necessary.

In 2002, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the Patriot Act in U.S. District Court in Michigan. They challenged the constitutionality of detaining these aliens for an undetermined amount of time. “Including a class action lawsuit asking a federal district court to declare the detention of a group of Muslim men unconstitutional." The lawsuit is more formally known as Turkmen v. Ashcroft, and the group of Muslim, South Asian, and Arab non-citizens who filed it claim to be victims of racial profiling. The case is still currently being seen by the Supreme Court, 16 years later.

This mass detainment of immigrants was not only a direct violation of the Sixth Amendment but the Fourteenth Amendment as well. The Equal Protection Clause prohibits any state from denying a person, within jurisdiction, the equal protection of the laws. This means every individual must be treated identically as others facing the same legal situation. This clause of the constitution directly prohibits discrimination. Arresting someone based on their nationality or race is against the law and it oversteps basic human rights promised by our founding fathers.

Take a Stand

The day preceding the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, President Bush addressed the country. “We will not allow this enemy to win the war by changing our way of life or restricting our freedoms,” he said. Less than two months later Bush abandoned his word and Congress passed the Patriot Act. This is the era of technology; almost every American has a digital footprint. This law affects anyone that makes phone calls, sends text messages, has e-mail accounts, or uses social media. With such a massive number of people affected every day, it’s important we recognize the unconstitutionality of the Patriot Act. Both the people and the government.

I propose a revision of the USA Patriot Act that will still give the government a strong advantage in the “War on Terrorism,” but one that does not infringe the civil liberties of Americans. This can be accomplished by only investigating those under suspicion of terrorist activity, rather than listening to all telephone calls or reading every message sent. It is completely reasonable to monitor terrorist suspects, in fact, I’d be uncomfortable if we didn’t! However, invading the privacy of innocent people is not right.

Americans should not feel the need to give up rights promised by the constitution for hundreds of years due to fear of terrorist groups. There should not have to be a sacrifice of freedom for protection.


A special thanks to Lorin Ashton for reminding me how important it is to speak up, and for his commitment to enlightening others.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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The Impact Of Technology On The Younger Generation

What effect will growing up in an “age of technology” have on the younger generation?
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By now, everyone knows what a prominent role technology plays in our society. It is nearly impossible to go a day without hearing something about technology on the news in some form, whether it is good or bad. Usually, these stories focus on the effect that it has on teenagers, since they are the group that is most heavily involved with using it; however, now, more than ever, kids and pre-teens are beginning to use technology just as much as teenagers and adults do. Unlike teenagers and adults, though, the younger generation has been raised with this constant influx of technology around them— they practically do not know life without it. What does this mean for them? What kind of impact will this have on them, both now and in the future? Overall, will this have a positive or negative effect on how they grow up?

In a way, growing up in an “age of technology” is a double-edged sword. While it has an abundance of advantages, it has just as many, if not more, disadvantages.

First, the advantages. The use of technology from a very young age helps in schools, due to the fact that it helps students want to learn, as well as makes it possible for each student to learn at their own pace. Additionally, it allows learning to become more interactive than it has ever been before. Kids essentially have the world readily available at their fingertips— if they want to know something they can look it up on the Internet and in just a few seconds have an answer.

Then, for the disadvantages, which many argue are much stronger than the advantages. Growing up with technology continuously around them, kids have a greater chance of becoming dependent on it, and become overly used to relying on it for everything. Among other effects, this can have a serious impact on their social skills. If kids and pre-teens communicate primarily through texting, social media, etc., from a young age, it is all they will know, and, as they get older, they will not be able to interact with others the same way they would if they were behind the screen of a device.

Kids are also more likely to follow what they see. For example, if they see their older sibling or parent constantly on their phone or laptop, they will do the same. Most kids today would rather stay inside and watch television or play video games then go outside to play. If they learn these habits now, it will be incredibly hard for them to break out of them. This will only lead to future generations becoming more and more introverted and technology obsessed in the years to come.

The bottom line is that having kids and pre-teens grow up in a world that is so influenced by technology has both good and bad effects on them. There is nothing wrong with their use of it, as long as it is balanced with them doing activities that kids should be doing, like going outside and playing catch or jumprope, or reading a book. There is no escaping technology— society just needs to learn how to use it in a way that is more beneficial than it is harmful.

Cover Image Credit: Ralph Nader Radio Hour

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Our Leaders Need A 'Time-Out'

We all learned a few essential rules as children.

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As I look watch the news, I can't help but wonder if the lessons we learned as children might not serve our leaders well. They seem to have forgotten these basic lessons. I am reminded of the book by Robert Fulghum "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."

Watch out, hold hands, and stick together.

I think this could be useful in a couple of different contexts. First, the current divisiveness in the country doesn't serve us well. We are first and foremost, a part of the family of humankind. Differences in politics, religion, and so on come in far behind that one important attribute. What happened to the notion of agreeing to disagree?

Second, when leaders get off a plane in another country, they should remember who they came with and who they represent - "watch out, hold hands, and stick together."

Clean up your own mess.

Trump seems to take great pleasure in blaming everyone else for their "mess." The government shutdown was someone else's fault – any Democrat. When the stock market went up, he happily took credit, but when it went down, he quickly shifted gears and placed the blame on the Federal Reserve Chairman. Daily and hourly tweets out of the White House place blame on someone else for his "mess." Sadly, he still likes to blame Obama and Hillary for his mess.

Don't lie.

Politicians have always had a bad reputation when it comes to honesty. Still, the number of lies that we hear from Trump (and members of his staff) is unprecedented even for a politician.

We all learned these lessons when we were little more than five years old. Now more than any time in history I think our leaders need a " time out" to re-learn these lessons.

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