The Patriot Act,
now passed and the law of the land, has eliminated the Constitutional guarantee
of probable cause when investigating a crime, and allows the police—at any time,
for any reason—to enter and search your house, files, bank account—and not even
tell you about it.
Are you a
patriot? Well, the fact of the matter is, you are whether you want to be or not.
The recent passage and signing of the Patriot Act has effectively nullified at
least six amendments of the Bill of Rights addendum to the U.S. Constitution.
This Patriot Bill is a massive violation of the Constitution it purports to
uphold and improve. Among other things, it mandates that judges give police
search warrants when they ask for them, for any reason. Judges can’t deny these
warrants to police, because police don’t need a stated reason to ask for them.
The Patriot Act
rushed through Congress and signed by President George W. Bush is a major step
toward a totalitarian state in which individual liberty is crushed by the whim
of police and corporate demagogues masquerading as patriots. The Patriot Act:
First Amendment freedom of speech guarantee, right to peacably assemble
provision, and petitition the government for redress of grievances provision;
it violates the First Amendment to the Constitution three times.
Fourth Amendment guarantee of probable cause in astonishingly major and
repeated ways. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution reads: “The right of
the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants
shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and
particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons of things to
be seized.” The Patriot Act has revoked the necessity for probable cause and
allows the police, at any time and for any reason, to enter and search your
house—and not even tell you about it.
Fifth Amendment by allowing for indefinite incarceration without trial for
those deemed by the Attorney General to be threats to national security. The
Fifth Amendment guarantees that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty
or property without due process of law, and the Patriot Act does away with due
process. It even allows people to be kept in prison for life without a trial.
Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to a speedy and public trial. Now you
may get no trial at all, ever.
Eighth Amendment (cruel and unusual punishment).
13th Amendment (punishment without conviction).
Most of the
following information is taken from the ACLU’s written objections to Congress
before and after the passage of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act does the
judges out the process and lets cops do what they want (cops meaning FBI, CIA,
judicial supervision of telephone and Internet surveillance by law enforcement
authorities in anti-terrorism investigations and in routine criminal
investigations unrelated to terrorism. Unrelated to terrorism—that means
the ability of the government to conduct secret searches—again in
anti-terrorism investigations and in routine criminal investigations unrelated
It gives the
Attorney General and the Secretary of State the power to designate domestic
groups as terrorist organizations and block any non-citizen who belongs to
them from entering the country. Under this provision the payment of membership
dues is a deportable offense. That means, among other things, that Bush and
Ashcroft can decide Greenpeace and Ralph Nader are terrorists, and under this
law, it can put them in jail.
It grants the
FBI broad access to sensitive medical, financial, mental health, and
educational records about individuals without having to show evidence of a
crime and without a court order. It means they can do what they want for no
good reason, except to persecute and imprison people.
It could lead
to large-scale investigations of American citizens for “intelligence” purposes
and use of intelligence authorities to by-pass probable cause requirements in
It puts the
CIA and other intelligence agencies back in the business of spying on
Americans by giving the director of Central Intelligence the authority to
identify priority targets for intelligence surveillance in the United States.
searches of highly personal financial records without notice and without
judicial review based on a very low standard that does not require probable
cause of a crime or even relevancy to an ongoing terrorism investigation.
It creates a
broad new definition of “domestic terrorism” that could sweep in people who
engage in acts of political protest and subject them to wiretapping and
enhanced penalties. This means they can jail anyone who disagrees with them,
and keep them in jail for life without a trial.
the detention of non-citizens facing deportation based on the Attorney
General’s certification that he/she has “reasonable grounds to believe” the
non-citizen endangers national security. While immigration or criminal charges
must be filed within seven days, these charges need not have anything to do
with terrorism, but can be minor visa violations of the kind that normally
would not result in detention at all. Non-citizens ordered removed on visa
violations could be indefinitely detained if they are stateless, their country
of origin refuses to accept them, or they are granted relief from deportation
because they would be tortured if they were returned to their country of
the Attorney General to indefinitely incarcerate or detain non-citizens based
on mere suspicion, and to deny re-admission to the United States of
non-citizens (including lawful permanent residents) for engaging in speech
protected by the First Amendment.
and Intelligence Surveillance
The wiretapping and
intelligence provisions in the USA Patriot Act sound two themes: they minimize
the role of a judge in ensuring that law enforcement wiretapping is conducted
legally and with proper justification, and they permit use of intelligence
investigative authority to by-pass normal criminal procedures that protect
1. The USA
Patriot Act allows the government to use its intelligence gathering power to
circumvent the standard that must be met for criminal wiretaps. Currently FISA
surveillance, which does not contain many of the same checks and balances that
govern wiretaps for criminal purposes, can be used only when foreign
intelligence gathering is the primary purpose. The new law allows use of FISA
surveillance authority even if the primary purpose were a criminal
investigation. Intelligence surveillance need only have a “significant” purpose.
This provision authorizes unconstitutional physical searches and wiretaps:
though it is searching primarily for evidence of crime, law enforcement conducts
a search without probable cause of crime.
2. The USA
Patriot Act extends a very low threshold of proof for access to Internet
communications that are far more revealing than numbers dialed on a phone. Under
current law, a law enforcement agent can get a pen register or trap and trace
order requiring the telephone company to reveal the numbers dialed to and from a
particular phone. To get such an order, law enforcement must simply certify to a
judge—who must grant the order—that the information to be obtained is “relevant
to an ongoing criminal investigation.” This provision apparently applies to law
enforcement efforts to determine what websites a person had visited, which is
like giving law enforcement the power—based only on its own certification—to
require the librarian to report on the books you have perused while visiting the
library. This provision extends a low standard of proof—far less than probable
cause—to actual “content” information.
3. In allowing
for “nationwide service” of pen register and trap and trace orders, the law
further marginalizes the role of the judiciary. It authorizes what would be the
equivalent of a blank warrant in the physical world: the court issues the order
and the law enforcement agent fills in the places to be searched.
This is not
consistent with the important Fourth Amendment privacy protection of requiring
that warrants specify the place to be searched. Under this legislation, a judge
is unable to meaningfully monitor the extent to which her/his order was being
used to access information about Internet communications.
4. The Act also
grants the FBI broad access in “intelligence” investigations to records about a
person maintained by a business. The FBI need only certify to a court that it is
conducting an intelligence investigation and that the records it seeks may be
relevant. With this new power, the FBI can force a business to turn over a
person’s educational, medical, financial, mental health, and travel records
based on a very low standard of proof and without meaningful judicial oversight.
The ACLU noted
that the FBI already had broad authority to monitor telephone and Internet
communications. Most of the changes apply not just to surveillance of
terrorists, but also to all surveillance in the United States. All surveillance.
authorities—even when they are required to obtain court orders – have great
leeway under current law to investigate suspects in terrorist attacks. Current
law already provided, for example, that wiretaps can be obtained for the crimes
involved in terrorist attacks, including destruction of aircraft and aircraft
The FBI also
already had authority to intercept these communications without showing probable
cause of crime for “intelligence” purposes under the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act. In fact, FISA wiretaps now exceed wiretapping for all domestic
criminal investigations. The standards for obtaining a FISA wiretap are lower
than the standards for obtaining a criminal wiretap.
dramatically expands the use of secret searches. Normally, a person is notified
when law enforcement conducts a search. In some cases regarding searches for
electronic information, law enforcement authorities can get court permission to
delay notification of a search. The USA Patriot Act extends the authority of the
government to request “secret searches” to every criminal case. This vast
expansion of power goes far beyond anything necessary to conduct terrorism
The Act also
allows for the broad sharing of sensitive information in criminal cases with
intelligence agencies, including the CIA, the NSA, the INS and the Secret
Service. It permits sharing of sensitive grand jury and wiretap information
without judicial review or any safeguards regarding the future use or
dissemination of such information.
information sharing authorizations and mandates effectively put the CIA back in
the business of spying on Americans: Once the CIA makes clear the kind of
information it seeks, law enforcement agencies can use tools like wiretaps and
intelligence searches to provide data to the CIA. In fact, the law specifically
gives the Director of Central Intelligence – who heads the CIA—the power to
identify domestic intelligence requirements.
The law also
creates a new crime of “domestic terrorism.” The new offense threatens to
transform protestors into terrorists if they engage in conduct that “involves
acts dangerous to human life.” Members of Operation Rescue, the Environmental
Liberation Front, and Greenpeace, for example, have all engaged in activities
that could subject them to prosecution as terrorists. Then, under this law,
those who provide lodging or other assistance to these “domestic terrorists”
could have their homes wiretapped and could be prosecuted.