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Objections against the Patriot Act

Objections against the Patriot Act

The US Patriot Act refers to the counter-terrorism laws that were drafted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack in the US. Many laws sought to give the federal government’s law enforcement agencies more investigative and counter-terrorism response powers. Before the attack, part of Congress had reversed course, saying that the laws would give the federal government excessive power. However, the terrorist attack set Congress on a war footing. The passing of the US Patriot Act gave the government expanded surveillance powers. Henceforth, the government would spy on its citizens, with limited judicial and public accountability.

Civil rights advocates and critics say that the Patriot Act contravenes the provisions of the First Amendment. Specifically, the law limits financing groups designated as terrorist groups by the federal government. The provision is against the right of expression and freedom of association as envisaged in the US Constitution’s First Amendment (Oliver et al., 2015). Besides, civil rights advocates argue that section 215 of the law imposes a gag order on citizens against the provisions of the First Amendment. Section 215 gives law enforcement powers to request information that will help gather foreign intelligence (US Congress, 2001). However, the provider must never reveal to the media that they were requested to provide such information. Civil rights activists accuse the government of misusing the law to deny citizens fundamental rights as the constitution provides.

Another segment of the law that attracts strong opposition from civil rights activists is section 505. The law gives the FBI the power to issue National Security Letters (NSLs) to businesses requesting information on their customers (US Congress, 2001). Before the implementation of the Patriot Act, the FBI could issue such letters, but only to request information on foreign spies and terrorist suspects. However, civil rights activists say that after the Patriot Act was implemented, the FBI would request information on anyone. The amendment is against the Constitution, which requires probable cause before giving out information (ACLU, 2023). Besides, businesses that provide such information are banned from revealing to their target customer that they have revealed their information. Essentially, civil rights activists oppose Section 505 because it invades customer privacy.

Also, the law invades privacy by allowing state agencies to conduct a physical search without going through the long road of obtaining a judicial warrant. Before the Patriot Act, the government could only conduct physical searches if the objective of such searches was to gather information on foreign intelligence (Oliver et al., 2015). However, with the implementation of the Patriot Act, state agencies can conduct physical searches on domestic entities as long as the significant purpose is intelligence (US Congress, 2001). Essentially, the Patriot Act kills the rights envisaged under the Fourth Amendment. Civil rights activists aver that the provision is subject to exploitation by agents who may file false information.

The Patriot Act was hurriedly implemented to respond to the 9/11 attack, thereby violating key constitutional provisions. One of the major constitutional provisions the act violated is the First Amendment requirement on association and free speech. Also, activists feel that the law invades customers’ privacy by allowing the FBI to gather information on anyone. Besides, the law allows state agencies to conduct physical searches without probable cause, violating the rights of the American people. Some of the provisions provided under the Patriot Act have expired or been expunged through judicial processes. Other ongoing court processes are challenging some of the active provisions. Civil rights activists are seeking the alignment of the act with the US constitution, something that Congress missed due to the urgency of the moment.


ACLU. (2023). Surveillance Under the USA/PATRIOT Act. American Civil Liberties Union.

Oliver, W. M., Marion, N. E., & Hill, J. B. (2015). Introduction to homeland security: policy, organization, and administration. Jones & Bartlett Learning.

US Congress. (2001). Uniting And Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001.


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Objections against the Patriot Act

Objections against the Patriot Act

Examine some objections held by civil rights advocates against the Patriot Act.

(S) Introduction to Homeland Security: Policy, Organization, and Administration
Willard M. Oliver, Nancy E. Marion, Joshua B. Hill, 2015
Jones and Bartlett
ISBN.13: 978-1-284-04583-3

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