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The USA Patriot Act was passed in response to the terrorist attacks against the American soil. It could be remembered that on September 11, 2001 several individuals thinking that they had a righteous cause attacked our country leading to the death of many Americans. The USA Patriot Act granted the federal government sweeping new powers to expand surveillance, curtain financing, and deport aliens in connection with terrorist activity. (Shinin Sinrar) It seems that some of the provisions of the said law are too intrusive and constitute a threat to the civil rights of every individual, whether citizen or non-citizen.
It is true that the state has inherent powers to pass laws necessary to protect the integrity of its territory and the life, liberty and property of its citizens. In this case, the USA Patriot Act of 2001 was passed as a measure of protection against its citizens to prevent the possibility of another terrorist attack happening in the American soil. On one hand, the Patriot Act empowered our law enforcement officers to track down terrorists and to stop them before they execute their plan. With the vast powers the law enforcement officers nowadays have better tools in preventing terrorism.
In my opinion however, this same law which seeks to protect us may eventually be used against us to the prejudice of our rights. It seems that some of the provisions of the law have significant repercussions against our constitutionally protected rights. In restricting our rights which are protected and guaranteed by the US Constitution, I fear that the said law violates the US Constitution.
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Consider for example Section 213 of the USA Patriot Act which expands the authority of the state to conduct “Sneak and Peak” Warrants without first procuring a search warrant. Such provision gives the state the authority to conduct a search by entering a house, apartment or an office when the occupant was still away. (“How the Anti-Terrorism Bill Expands Law Enforcement "Sneak and Peek" Warrants,” 2001)
Likewise, the said law grants the state also has the authority to seize the physical property and electronic communications from the suspect. It also gives the state the authority not to inform the suspect until the time when he is already about to be arrested. (“How the Anti-Terrorism Bill Expands Law Enforcement "Sneak and Peek" Warrants,” 2001) The said provision violates the Fourth Amendment since it first requires law enforcement officers to first secure a search warrant and to give notice to the person whose property will be searched. Under the 4th Amendment, as a measure of protection on our privacy rights, the state has to first secure authority from our courts before they could conduct searches and seizures. Only after a search warrant has been issued can the state start to enter into our property and conduct its search..
Section 411 of the USA Patriot Act is another questionable provision which affects the individual’s Freedom to associate himself with any group. Under the said provision, it “permits detention and deportation of non-citizens who provide assistance for lawful activities of a group the government claims is a terrorist organization, even if the group has never been designated as a terrorist organization.” (How the Anti-Terrorism Bill Allows for Detention of People Engaging in Innocent Associational Activity, 2001). The said provision gives authority to the Secretary of State to determine groups that are considered as ‘terrorist organization.’ The effect of this is that those who are members of the organization which the state has branded as terrorist organizations and those who pay membership dues may be deported. Thus non-citizen members can be deported regardless whether they knew of the designation of the organization as a terrorist organization and whether the aid they provided had any relationship with the group’s terrorist activities.
A careful analysis of the provision of the USA Patriot Act will reveal that the said law is dangerous and is offensive to our rights. While others may argue that certain restrictions on our constitutional rights may be permitted if it will mean that we will have a safer society it is my firm conviction, however, that our war against terrorism cannot be won by intruding into our most basic rights. The USA Patriot Act clearly borders on unconstitutionality. I believe that all measures to counter terrorism must be in strict conformity with the relevant provisions of International Laws and our Constitution. The hallmark of every democratic society is the freedom and privacy accorded to its citizens. Every citizen is entitled to their right of privacy in their own houses, papers and things, freedom against unreasonable searches and seizures, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Association. These rights are essential for the enjoyment of our very humanity. If these most-cherished rights will be sacrificed in the guise of protecting national security, our very humanity will be threatened. What is the use of protection from terrorists when our very own government is terrorizing us?