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What Is The Patriot Act

Guest James Ashburn Jr.

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Guest James Ashburn Jr.

My dad talks all the time about the patriot act and how it is good for us. My friends

think it will take away all our rights. Why do we need it?

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Hi James,


The Department of Justice's first priority is to prevent future terrorist attacks. Since its passage following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Patriot Act has played a key part - and often the leading role - in a number of successful operations to protect innocent Americans from the deadly plans of terrorists dedicated to destroying America and our way of life. While the results have been important, in passing the Patriot Act, Congress provided for only modest, incremental changes in the law. Congress simply took existing legal principles and retrofitted them to preserve the lives and liberty of the American people from the challenges posed by a global terrorist network.


The Act Improves Our Counter-Terrorism Efforts in Several Significant Ways:


1. The Patriot Act allows investigators to use the tools that were already available to investigate organized crime and drug trafficking. Many of the tools the Act provides to law enforcement to fight terrorism have been used for decades to fight organized crime and drug dealers, and have been reviewed and approved by the courts. As Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) explained during the floor debate about the Act, "the FBI could get a wiretap to investigate the mafia, but they could not get one to investigate terrorists. To put it bluntly, that was crazy! What's good for the mob should be good for terrorists." (Cong. Rec., 10/25/01)


Allows law enforcement to use surveillance against more crimes of terror. Before the Patriot Act, courts could permit law enforcement to conduct electronic surveillance to investigate many ordinary, non-terrorism crimes, such as drug crimes, mail fraud, and passport fraud. Agents also could obtain wiretaps to investigate some, but not all, of the crimes that terrorists often commit. The Act enabled investigators to gather information when looking into the full range of terrorism-related crimes, including: chemical-weapons offenses, the use of weapons of mass destruction, killing Americans abroad, and terrorism financing.


Allows federal agents to follow sophisticated terrorists trained to evade detection. For years, law enforcement has been able to use "roving wiretaps" to investigate ordinary crimes, including drug offenses and racketeering. A roving wiretap can be authorized by a federal judge to apply to a particular suspect, rather than a particular phone or communications device. Because international terrorists are sophisticated and trained to thwart surveillance by rapidly changing locations and communication devices such as cell phones, the Act authorized agents to seek court permission to use the same techniques in national security investigations to track terrorists.


Allows law enforcement to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists. In some cases if criminals are tipped off too early to an investigation, they might flee, destroy evidence, intimidate or kill witnesses, cut off contact with associates, or take other action to evade arrest. Therefore, federal courts in narrow circumstances long have allowed law enforcement to delay for a limited time when the subject is told that a judicially-approved search warrant has been executed. Notice is always provided, but the reasonable delay gives law enforcement time to identify the criminal's associates, eliminate immediate threats to our communities, and coordinate the arrests of multiple individuals without tipping them off beforehand. These delayed notification search warrants have been used for decades, have proven crucial in drug and organized crime cases, and have been upheld by courts as fully constitutional.


Allows federal agents to ask a court for an order to obtain business records in national security terrorism cases. Examining business records often provides the key that investigators are looking for to solve a wide range of crimes. Investigators might seek select records from hardware stores or chemical plants, for example, to find out who bought materials to make a bomb, or bank records to see who's sending money to terrorists. Law enforcement authorities have always been able to obtain business records in criminal cases through grand jury subpoenas, and continue to do so in national security cases where appropriate. These records were sought in criminal cases such as the investigation of the Zodiac gunman, where police suspected the gunman was inspired by a Scottish occult poet, and wanted to learn who had checked the poet's books out of the library. In national security cases where use of the grand jury process was not appropriate, investigators previously had limited tools at their disposal to obtain certain business records. Under the Patriot Act, the government can now ask a federal court (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court), if needed to aid an investigation, to order production of the same type of records available through grand jury subpoenas. This federal court, however, can issue these orders only after the government demonstrates the records concerned are sought for an authorized investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a U.S. person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a U.S. person is not conducted solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment.


2. The Patriot Act facilitated information sharing and cooperation among government agencies so that they can better "connect the dots." The Act removed the major legal barriers that prevented the law enforcement, intelligence, and national defense communities from talking and coordinating their work to protect the American people and our national security. The government's prevention efforts should not be restricted by boxes on an organizational chart. Now police officers, FBI agents, federal prosecutors and intelligence officials can protect our communities by "connecting the dots" to uncover terrorist plots before they are completed. As Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) said about the Patriot Act, "we simply cannot prevail in the battle against terrorism if the right hand of our government has no idea what the left hand is doing."


Prosecutors can now share evidence obtained through grand juries with intelligence officials -- and intelligence information can now be shared more easily with federal prosecutors. Such sharing of information leads to concrete results. For example, a federal grand jury recently indicted an individual in Florida, Sami al-Arian, for allegedly being the U.S. leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, one of the world's most violent terrorist outfits. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is responsible for murdering more than 100 innocent people, including a young American named Alisa Flatow who was killed in a tragic bus bombing in Gaza. The Patriot Act assisted us in obtaining the indictment by enabling the full sharing of information and advice about the case among prosecutors and investigators. Alisa's father, Steven Flatow, has said, "When you know the resources of your government are committed to right the wrongs committed against your daughter, that instills you with a sense of awe. As a father you can't ask for anything more."


3. The Patriot Act updated the law to reflect new technologies and new threats. The Act brought the law up to date with current technology, so we no longer have to fight a digital-age battle with antique weapons-legal authorities leftover from the era of rotary telephones. When investigating the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, for example, law enforcement used one of the Act's new authorities to use high-tech means to identify and locate some of the killers.


Allows law enforcement officials to obtain a search warrant anywhere a terrorist-related activity occurred. Before the Patriot Act, law enforcement personnel were required to obtain a search warrant in the district where they intended to conduct a search. However, modern terrorism investigations often span a number of districts, and officers therefore had to obtain multiple warrants in multiple jurisdictions, creating unnecessary delays. The Act provides that warrants can be obtained in any district in which terrorism-related activities occurred, regardless of where they will be executed. This provision does not change the standards governing the availability of a search warrant, but streamlines the search-warrant process.


Allows victims of computer hacking to request law enforcement assistance in monitoring the "trespassers" on their computers. This change made the law technology-neutral; it placed electronic trespassers on the same footing as physical trespassers. Now, hacking victims can seek law enforcement assistance to combat hackers, just as burglary victims have been able to invite officers into their homes to catch burglars.


4. The Patriot Act increased the penalties for those who commit terrorist crimes. Americans are threatened as much by the terrorist who pays for a bomb as by the one who pushes the button. That's why the Patriot Act imposed tough new penalties on those who commit and support terrorist operations, both at home and abroad. In particular, the Act:


Prohibits the harboring of terrorists. The Act created a new offense that prohibits knowingly harboring persons who have committed or are about to commit a variety of terrorist offenses, such as: destruction of aircraft; use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons; use of weapons of mass destruction; bombing of government property; sabotage of nuclear facilities; and aircraft piracy.


Enhanced the inadequate maximum penalties for various crimes likely to be committed by terrorists: including arson, destruction of energy facilities, material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations, and destruction of national-defense materials.


Enhanced a number of conspiracy penalties, including for arson, killings in federal facilities, attacking communications systems, material support to terrorists, sabotage of nuclear facilities, and interference with flight crew members. Under previous law, many terrorism statutes did not specifically prohibit engaging in conspiracies to commit the underlying offenses. In such cases, the government could only bring prosecutions under the general federal conspiracy provision, which carries a maximum penalty of only five years in prison.


Punishes terrorist attacks on mass transit systems.


Punishes bioterrorists.


Eliminates the statutes of limitations for certain terrorism crimes and lengthens them for other terrorist crimes.

The government's success in preventing another catastrophic attack on the American homeland since September 11, 2001, would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, without the USA Patriot Act. The authorities Congress provided have substantially enhanced our ability to prevent, investigate, and prosecute acts of terror.


You can find more information about the Patriot Act by going to:




Hope this helps.

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ACLU Seeks Emergency Court Order to Lift Gag As Congress Prepares to Make Patriot Act Permanent


The American Civil Liberties Union today disclosed that the FBI has used a controversial Patriot Act power to demand records from an organization that possesses “a wide array of sensitive information about library patrons, including information about the reading materials borrowed by library patrons and about Internet usage by library patrons.” The FBI demand was disclosed in a new lawsuit filed in Connecticut, which remains under a heavy FBI gag order.


The ACLU is seeking an emergency court order to lift the gag so that its client can participate in the public debate about the Patriot Act as Congress prepares to reauthorize or amend it in September.


“Our client wants to tell the American public about the dangers of allowing the FBI to demand library records without court approval,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson, the lead lawyer in the case. “If our client could speak, he could explain why Congress should adopt additional safeguards that would limit Patriot Act powers.”


Papers reveal that the client, whose identity must remain a secret under the gag, “strictly guards the confidentiality and privacy of its library and Internet records.” The client is a member of the American Library Association.


The lawsuit challenges the National Security Letter (NSL) provision of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the FBI to demand a range of personal records without court approval, such as the identity of a person who has visited a particular Web site on a library computer, or who has engaged in anonymous speech on the Internet. The Patriot Act dramatically expands the NSL power by permitting the FBI to demand records of people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.


The lawsuit, ACLU v. Gonzales, was filed on August 9, and is pending before Judge Janet Hall of the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It names as defendants Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and an FBI official whose identity remains under seal. Both the national ACLU and its Connecticut branch said they were forced to file the lawsuit initially under seal to avoid penalties for violating the gag provision, which they are challenging on First Amendment grounds.


The court has set an emergency hearing for Wednesday, August 31, 2005 on the ACLU’s request to lift the gag.


Whether the Patriot Act has been used to obtain information about library patrons has been a flashpoint in the Patriot Act debate. The government has repeatedly dismissed the concerns of librarians that the act could force them to violate their ethical responsibility to protect the privacy of library users. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft even called these concerns about the Patriot Act “baseless hysteria.”


Congress is currently undertaking efforts to reauthorize the Patriot Act, with both the House and Senate having passed different versions of legislation before adjourning for the August recess. While the ACLU has not endorsed either bill, it has said the Senate bill takes steps in the right direction.


“As Congress comes back to work out the differences in the House and Senate bills to reauthorize the Patriot Act, a commitment to freedom must prevail,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The more we learn about the Patriot Act, the clearer it is that too much power was granted to the government, with too few safeguards against abuse. While neither reauthorization bill is perfect, we call on Congress to use the Senate bill as its guide as it reconsiders the Patriot Act.”


In an earlier ACLU lawsuit challenging the NSL power, a federal court issued a landmark decision in September 2004 striking down the NSL statute, saying that “democracy abhors undue secrecy.” The court held that the NSL law violates the First and Fourth Amendments, but allowed the law to stand while the government is appealing the decision.


The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is expected to hear the government’s appeal of that lawsuit this fall. The government recently asked the court to delay the appeal while Congress debates reauthorization of the Patriot Act. However, the ACLU opposes any delay, citing the need for urgent court action so that its John Doe client in the first lawsuit can also participate in the public debate.


“Judicial review is a key part to our system of checks and balances,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “As we consider expanding and extending the Patriot Act, this case shows us what might become routine if we don't fix the law.”


The ACLU has created a special Web page on its National Security Letter litigation, which includes links to today’s legal papers, online at www.aclu.org/nsl.


Attorneys in the case are Beeson, Jameel Jaffer and Melissa Goodman of the national ACLU and Annette M. Lamoreaux of the ACLU of Connecticut.

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The Patriot II Act is a Mandate to Collect Genetic Information


DNA would be put into a "Terrorist Identification Database." It would contain information not only for proven terrorists, but also "suspected terrorists." And that term would include anyone who was associated with, or had provided money or other support for, groups designated "terrorist."


It might also include protesters, or anyone else the government dislikes. Remember, the original USA Patriot Act defined the new crime of "domestic terrorism" broadly, to encompass "any action that endangers human life that is a violation of any Federal or State law."


Certainly one could envision a disruptive war protester who resisted arrest being tagged as a "suspected domestic terrorist," and forced to provide DNA. Would the government need to get a court order to procure the DNA? Not under Patriot II.


And what if the protester wouldn't comply? That would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Anyway, the protester's refusing to give up DNA might be futile - if any other government agency happens to have a blood sample, Patriot II gives the government the right to put it in the new database.


Incredibly, DNA would also be collected from anyone who is, or has been, on probation for any crime, no matter how minor. State governments would be required to collect DNA samples from state probationers and provide them to the federal government.

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In previously sealed legal papers made public today by the American Civil Liberties Union, an unnamed librarian expressed fears of imprisonment if he were to violate a gag order in a challenge to a controversial Patriot Act power used by the FBI to demand library records.


The ACLU is seeking an emergency court order to lift the gag so that the client may speak to Congress, the press and the public about his firsthand experiences with the Patriot Act. A transcript of yesterday's argument was also made public today.


The lawsuit specifically challenges the National Security Letter (NSL) provision of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the FBI to demand a range of personal records without court approval, including library records and the identify of people who have used library computers. The Patriot Act dramatically expands the NSL power by permitting the FBI to demand records of people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.


"I believe that members of the public have a right to know that their library records are subject to what I believe are unconstitutional government searches," said an unnamed representative of the ACLU's "John Doe" client. "But for the gag, I would inform members of the public about the NSL power and its application in the library context. Because of the gag, I am afraid that if I publicly discuss the NSL power I will subject both [name redacted] and myself to serious sanctions, including possible imprisonment."


Papers reveal that the client, whose identity must remain a secret under the permanent gag, "strictly guards the confidentiality and privacy of its library and Internet records." The client is a member of the American Library Association and the Connecticut Library Association and possesses "a wide array of sensitive information about library patrons, including information about the reading materials borrowed by library patrons and about Internet usage by library patrons."


In an affidavit supporting the release of the gag order, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero noted that the gag "has straitjacketed our ability to inform the press, the public and Congress about the government's use of a dangerous new power. More importantly," he added, "the public and Congress are being denied information essential to the public and legislative debate that is at the heart of democratic self-governance."

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  • 2 months later...
Guest dcaclu.org

Following a move by the House Wednesday that rebuked the White House’s position on the Patriot Act, key members of the House and Senate are meeting today to reconcile differences between Patriot Act reauthorization bills. The American Civil Liberties Union called on the conferees to use the Senate version as their guide and put checks and balances on the controversial law.


In particular, the ACLU called on Congress to require a factual connection between records sought and a suspected terrorist, for both Sections 215 and 505 of the Patriot Act, as well as remove the extraneous provisions in the House bill changing federal death penalty provisions and take steps to better protect against abuses of data-mining.


The House adopted a "motion to instruct" on voice vote Wednesday that calls on the conferees to defer to the Senate bill, which provides more Congressional and judicial oversight on some of the most egregious Patriot Act powers. The move came despite calls from the administration that lawmakers should reject such moderate restrictions.


The following can be attributed to Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy:


"Conservatives, business groups, progressives, nearly 400 communities, and lawmakers across the political spectrum have called for Patriot Act reforms. And now all eyes are on the conferees. As these negotiations proceed, lawmakers must remain steadfast in their convictions, no matter how much pressure the administration puts on them. These modest reforms are an important first step in putting better checks and balances on some of the act’s most egregious powers."

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Guest Reid Cherlin

The House of Representatives today agreed to sunset three controversial provisions of the PATRIOT Act after four years. Hard-line House supporters of the President’s policies had previously insisted on implementing only two ten-year sunsets.


“The House showed a desperately needed measure of common sense in agreeing to four-year sunsets today,” Congressman Nadler said. “It’s clear that we need expanded law-enforcement powers to fight terrorism, but it’s just as clear that we need to be rigorous in monitoring the use of those powers. Implementing four-year sunsets on the PATRIOT Act’s most controversial provisions is the very least we can do to ensure proper oversight.”


Congressman Nadler was appointed today to the House-Senate conference committee. The committee will meet over the next few days to draft a final version of the legislation, which was reauthorized separately by both houses earlier this year. The motion to instruct conferees passed by the House today essentially sets forth an agreement that the House will accede to the Senate’s four-year sunsets on Section 206, Section 215, and the so-called Lone Wolf provision. The original version of the PATRIOT Act, passed in the weeks following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, included 16 four-year sunsets.


Congressman Nadler has argued throughout the reauthorization process that frequently recurring sunsets are critical to adequate congressional oversight of the PATRIOT Act. Many provisions of the legislation are considered by conservative and liberal groups alike to threaten Americans’ civil liberties.


Nadler rose on the House floor to deliver the following statement in support of the motion:


“Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the Motion to Instruct Conferees on extending Patriot Act sunsets.


The PATRIOT Act Reauthorization bill that passed the House makes permanent the most dangerous and intrusive provisions of the PATRIOT Act. This legislation makes permanent fourteen of the sixteen sunsetted provisions. The remaining two sunsetting provisions are renewed for ten-years. These provisions will be in effect through the next Presidential term, and most of the way through the one after that before any Congressional oversight is mandated.


Ten years is not a sunset. Ten years is quasi-permanent.


Today, with this Motion to Instruct Conferees, we have an opportunity to correct this abdication of responsibility, and again seek to strike a better balance between national security and civil liberties.


The PATRIOT Act provisions due to sunset are particularly worrisome because they expand the powers of the police to pry into the privacy of ordinary Americans, to go into their homes, into their papers, into their internet records, into their telephone records, into their medical records and into their bank records.


Reinstating the sunsets is about accountability. The breadth of many of these provisions—including section 206 (roving wiretap), section 213 (sneak and peek), section 215 (the library provision) and section 505 (National Security Letters)—creates the potential for abuse. We need sunsets to guarantee frequent and timely Congressional examination of the need for these invasive and intrusive powers.


Mr. Sensenbrenner has said that these provisions are not being abused. How does he know? We were appalled to read this past Sunday in the Washington Post that the FBI issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year in “preliminary investigations” and in the “threat assessments” made before deciding whether or not to launch an investigation. These tens of thousands of invasive government demands for sensitive and private information have resulted in the collections of possibly hundreds of millions of personal facts of innocent American citizens, residents and businesses. This abuse and overuse of NSLs coincides with the Bush Administration’s decision to file the collected information in government databases.


Sunsets have been the major check on any abuse of the PATRIOT Act. They mean that at least every 4 years Congress is required to look at the law again, has to revisit it, and has to ask tough questions on the use, or abuse, of these powers.


At least every 4 years we should have to look into the burdens on our civil liberties imposed by the PATRIOT Act and ask, “Are these powers being abused? Should they be fine tuned? Should they be narrowed? Have we made the right balance between security and liberty? What can we do to ensure that our constitutional rights are not violated to the greatest extent possible?”


For these reasons, we should reinstate the sunsets for an additional 4 years. The FBI will have all the powers it needs. It will merely have to hold itself accountable to Congress and the American people in four years about how these powers are used. Why is that so terrible?


I call on all my colleagues—Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives— to safeguard the national security and the civil liberties of all Americans by voting for this motion.”

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  • 8 months later...
Guest aclu.org

Following a Supreme Court order, the American Civil Liberties Union today released legal documents that were previously sealed by the government and the courts during a legal battle over a controversial Patriot Act power.


With the help of the ACLU, Library Connection in Connecticut successfully fought against the FBI's use of a "National Security Letter" to demand patron records without a court order. The government had gagged Library Connection from identifying itself as an NSL recipient even after its identity was revealed by the New York Times. When the ACLU sought an emergency order from the Supreme Court to lift the gag last October, the government required all the court documents to be filed under seal. Those documents, available for the first time today, included copies of New York Times articles and phrases such as "the genie is out of the bottle" and "the cat is out of the bag."


"The documents unsealed today show the absurdity of the government's insistence that the Library Connection staff could not speak out even after the government's negligence revealed that they were the John Doe plaintiffs," said Ann Beeson, ACLU Associate Legal Director and lead counsel in this case. "The government's shameful cries of ‘national security' to hide its actions from the public is an abuse of power that only makes America less safe and less free."


Among the documents unsealed today is a portion of the Connecticut district court opinion rejecting the government's argument, based on secret evidence, to justify the gag on Library Connection's identity even before it was revealed by the New York Times. In the sealed portion, U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall reasoned that revealing the identity of Library Connection would pose no harm to national security because "the universe of people who could be the subject" of the NSL "would likely be in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands."


Today's documents also include previously sealed portions of Justice Ginsburg's opinion denying Library Connection's emergency motion to lift the gag. In the portion released today, Justice Ginsburg wrote, "through inadvertence, Doe's identity has been publicly available for several days on the District Court's Web site and … the parties also learned that the media had correctly reported Doe's identity on at least one occasion."


Likewise, the documents show that the government censored direct quotes from previous Supreme Court cases cited in the ACLU's legal papers. The cases held that the government cannot prevent the publication of information once it is disclosed to the public. Even clichés proved too dangerous to be revealed in the government's view. Phrases like "Once the cat is out of the bag, the ballgame is over" and "the genie is out of the bottle" were also sealed.


"As an American, I am embarrassed that our government would go to such extremes to stifle free and open debate and keep non- sensitive information from the public," said George Christian, Executive Director of the Library Connection. "It undermines trust the public has in libraries when government agents can force librarians to turn over private patron information without any kind of court order or evidence of wrongdoing."


The government refused to lift the gag on the Library Connection while Congress debated changes to the Patriot Act, but abandoned their claims less than six weeks after the law was re-authorized. In a legal brief submitted as the debate raged on, the ACLU argued, "Now that John Doe's identity has been widely disseminated, the government's sole basis for the gag has wholly evaporated, and there is no conceivable further justification for employing the government's coercive powers to silence American citizens during a national political debate of historic consequence." That sentence remained censored by the government until today.

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