Talk:Patriot Act/controversy

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This entire section was removed from the main article.

Much Some of the Patriot Act is controversial. The largest criticisms come from civil libertarians and others who believe that the Act gives too much power to the executive branch and infringes on civil liberties.

  • Problem: We need to specify WHAT power is "given to the executive branch" and HOW this "infringes on civil liberties".
    1. WHOSE civil liberties are being infringed? Innocent people? Terrorists? (How much privacy do terrorists need to have, so that we can feel good about ensuring they have the same rights as everyone else? Enough so that that they can freely plan to hijack planes and destroy large buildings?)

Some claim that these problems arose from the rushed nature of the passage of the bill. “The richest and most powerful government in world history was portrayed as a weakling vis-à-vis Al Qaeda terrorists. Until that legislative package was enacted, America was supposedly at a grave disadvantage.”[1] They also claim that Arttorney General Ashcroft and the Bush administration pressured Congressmen to vote for the package as a whole, instead of piece by piece, which lead to even more measures which would not have been passed had appropriate procedures taken place.[1] Votes were scheduled to pass the bill before members of congress could get a copy, and in the days right after the terrorist attacks nobody wanted to be seen as unpatriotic by voting against the USA PATRIOT Act.

One point of contention with opponents of the Patriot Act is with the roving wiretaps provision. Some claim that the since the FBI does not have to determine the location of their suspect before they start collecting intelligence, the privacy of innocent citizens could accidentally be intruded upon.[2] They also claim that, due to changes within FISA outside of the realm of the Patriot Act, it is not necessary to know the identity of the person upon whom the warrant is being issued. This could lead to “John Doe” warrants, in which the government does not specify a suspect or a place of interception.[2]

Another problem opponents have with the Patriot Act is with the sneak and peek search warrants. They claim that the standards are too low, and the definitions are too vague, such that warrants could be executed non-terror related crimes or even non-violent crimes like health care fraud.[3] These opponents argue that the weak definition of a “reasonable” time to notify the suspect that he had been searched could lead to situations where the suspect is denied his constitutional rights.[4] If, for example, the FBI got a search warrant to search a suspect’s garbage but found evidence by searching the subject’s desk, by the time the suspect was notified it is likely he will have no legal recourse.

A lot of criticisms have been aimed towards the libraries provision of the Patriot Act. As with other criticisms, those for the libraries provision rest largely in the broad and vague language in the bill. These types of searches had existed before in criminal law, but not with such loose and broad terms. The new law could be used to gain access to records usually subject to privacy protections, such as medical records.[5] Opponents also dislike the gag rule, which makes it illegal for the business which has been subpoenaed to even reveal that they have received a FISA request. Gag rules have been in place for such things as ongoing wiretaps, where informing the suspect would result in negating the usefulness of the tap, but never before have they been used to keep a subject in the dark about completed searches (even sneak and peek suspects eventually discover that they were searched).[5]

Eight states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana and Vermont) and 396 cities and counties (including New York City; Los Angeles; Dallas; Chicago; Philadelphia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts) have passed resolutions condemning the Act for attacking civil liberties. Despite these claims, however, The FBI reports that there have not been any verified abuses of any of the provisions of the Patriot Act[6] nor any terrorist incidents causing loss of life on American soil since its passage.

In September 2007 a federal judge ruled that sections of the Patriot Act were unconstitutional, stating in a 106 page ruling that the Act was "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values."[7]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Cato Handbook on Policy (6th edition). Ed. Edward H. Crane and David Boaz, p. 199 (Cato Institute, 2005)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dempsey, James X. “Section 206: Roving Surveillance Authority Under FISA: A Summary” (American Bar Association, 2005). (Accessed April 16th, 2007).
  3. Dempsey, James X. “Section 213: ‘Sneak and Peek’ Search Warrants: Replies” (American Bar Association, 2005). (Accessed April 16th, 2007)
  4. Cato Handbook for Congress: Policy Recommendations for the 108th Congress. Ed. Edward H. Crane and David Boaz, p. 118-9 (Cato Institute, 2003)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Swire, Peter P. “Section 215: Access to Business Records under FISA (‘Libraries Provision’): Replies” (American Bar Association, 2005). (Accessed April 16th, 2007)


The first sentence is written that way intentionally, as it is an introduction to the rest of the section, where I believe your questions are answered. If you don't like the article starting out that way, I have no problem striking the first sentence completely and then moving the rest of that paragraph to the end of the whole section; it doesn't make a horrible conclusion.

I agree with the stricken portions, and would probably say that the statement by the FBI is pretty much meaningless and should be stricken too. Now if there were a statement by some third party, then it would be very useful to the article.

I just had another thought. What if, instead of trying to "fix" the controversy section to fit in with the rest of the article, we move it to a seperate article entirely? This way we could say "opponents say X, but conservatives say Y", without overshadowing the rest of the article. I think that a controversy section is important, but also that a "response to the controversy" section is even more important, since this is a conservative encyclopedia. This response is really what is mostly lacking right now. HelpJazz 16:13, 9 April 2008 (EDT) PS: As I said on the other talk page, I will work up some more specifics later tonight and write a proposal for some more specific answers to Ed's question. HelpJazz

Well the idea, as I was told, was to keep some semblance of it so the article will note disagreements, without being a tit-for-tat argument against the Act, which is of course inappropriate. A good, detailed Essay or Debate page would be completely appropriate for something against it, IMO. But I doubt the powers that be will want to open the door to "opposition" articles....;-) --₮K/Talk 16:30, 9 April 2008 (EDT)
Sorry, but it still sounds like every "objection" is not to a potential for abuse of an innocent person. Rather, the objection is that the FBI might actually be able to catch some bad guys.
We need to address the issue of balance: for example, the Bill of Rights recognizes a person's right to privacy for his papers and stuff YET allows a search if a judge issues a warrant. So what sort of law do we have to have that protects innocent people from being hurt by some corrupt administration just looking for ways to harass them, while also making allowing the good guys in the FBI to uncover and stop conspiracies like that which led to 9/11.
Maybe we need to address the various things that FBI agents wanted to do when they first heard about Arab-looking men who wanted to learn how to steer a jumbo jet, but didn't care about landing one. What legal powers would they need, to investigate further? Which of these powers - if used "against" some innocent person - would violate their rights? (Please specify the rights by Amendment number, etc.) --Ed Poor Talk 18:10, 9 April 2008 (EDT)
I don't personally object to any of those portions. The Patriot Act definitely cleared out of the way a lot of the bureaucracy that would have been critical for communication between the FBI and other portions of the government that could have stopped the hijackers. I have more concern about the sneak and peak warrants, and how they are not clearly defined (i.e. the health care example above). Sneak and peak warrants in the case of imminent suspected terrorism are fine with me (and perhaps not with a lot of the critics of the Patriot Act), but I do think it is germane to comment on how the boundaries and limits are not clearly defined there. Similarly, the issue with the limits are germane with the library, such as the also provided example of how it could lead to fraud to spying or medical records. DanH 18:16, 9 April 2008 (EDT)
Ed Poor, would you not admit that 95% of flying an airplane is take off, and the actual flying, and that "landing" is only a small part of it all?  :P --₮K/Talk 18:18, 9 April 2008 (EDT)

UIOP@#HERUIP@#Y$*(&# $*(!#H@$NO Aziraphale 18:36, 9 April 2008 (EDT) <-best I can do at the moment...

I'm doing my best

Four important points first

  • People disagree on the extent to which the Bill of Rights extends and limits freedoms. If they did not, then there would likely be no need for a controversy section. Please take into consideration that the sources which follow likely take a more strict view of the Bill of Rights than you do.
  • The right to privacy is not explicitly enumerated as an amendment to the Constitution, but it is a very important issue for libertarians nonetheless.
  • I’m not 100% sure what of the following has been changed, as the Patriot Act has been updated several times. If these examples are deemed “acceptable” I can do some further research.
  • (Minor point) Not all of the controversy over the Patriot Act is due to the infringement of rights of innocent people, as the Bill of Rights also is there to protect the rights of the guilty (see, e.g., the Fifth Amendment). However, since we seem to only be focused on infringements of rights of the innocent, I will only stick to those types claims as much as I can ("innocent before proven guilty" blurs the line a bit).

From [1]:

  • Power expanded: “roaming wiretaps” (explained in article)
  • Who is affected: named or unnamed targets, under FISA (so if I remember correctly, this is unlikely to affect Americans)
    • Nonterrorists? Unlikely for Americans, more likely for non-Americans
    • Innocents? More likely for non-Americans, very unlikely for Americans
  • How liberties are infringed: authorized secretly, no showing of probable cause, loose description of warrants, no necessary described place or person (Fourth Amendment),
    • Response: roving wiretaps have been used in criminal investigations since 1986

From [2]:

  • Power expanded: “sneak and peak” warrants (explained in article)
  • Who is affected: terrorists and other criminals
    • Nonterrorists? Yes. This section applies to criminal offenses which are not necessarily terror-related
    • Innocents? Possible, and also possible that an innocent won’t even know that a search is performed for months (Fourth Amendment)
  • How liberties are infringed: no notification (Fourth Amendment), low bar for applicability (easy to abuse), undefined notification period
    • Response: delayed notification searches have been used for organized crime, drugs, and child pornography

From [3]:

  • What power: the “libraries provision” (explained in article)
  • Who is affected: targets under FISA, but unlike other FISA warrants, can be applied to those not agents of foreign powers
    • Nonterrorists? Not limited to only suspected terrorists
    • Innocents? Always possible
  • How liberties are infringed: applies to any tangible records, trumping other laws which hold privacy protections (medical records, for example); standards less than probable cause (Fourth Amendment), “gag rule” expansion (user may never know they were/are subject to a search warrant
    • Response: (Couldn’t find one that doesn’t sound like a straw man, will keep looking)

Those are some detailed responses; writing in that format really takes a lot out of me! Here are some others that I can describe more fully if you like:

  • Section 203 – spying on Americans without appropriate judicial oversight (Fourth Amendment)
  • Section 411 – be labeled as a terrorist for being a member of an activist group (First Amendment)
  • Section 216 – monitor emails and internet browsing (‘’very’’ high potential for innocents here, since it allows broad, indiscriminate sweeps) (Fourth Amendment)
  • Section 806 – seize property without notice or hearing (high potential for abuse, especially of anti-government organizations) (Fourth Amendment)
  • Section 412 – incarcerate immigrants indefinitely without having to prove that they are terrorists (Fifth Amendment)

I hope this is help(jazz)ful, and I hope it’s what you were looking for. HelpJazz 21:07, 9 April 2008 (EDT)