What is the USA PATRIOT Act?
The Patriot Act, or USA PATRIOT Act, was passed shortly after the terrorist attacks in the United States that occurred on September 11, 2001, and gave law enforcement broader powers to investigate, charge, and bring terrorists to justice. It has also led to harsher penalties for committing and supporting terrorist crimes.
Acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”, the USA PATRIOT Act lowered the threshold for law enforcement to obtain intelligence and information against suspected spies, The Terroristsand other enemies of the United States.
Key points to remember
- The Patriot Act is a US law giving law enforcement more powers to prevent terrorist attacks.
- The act, USA PATRIOT, is an acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing the Proper Tools Needed to Intercept and Hinder Terrorism.”
- The law obliges the financial sector to report suspicious customer behavior in order to prevent money laundering linked to terrorism.
- Proponents of the Patriot Act say it provides law enforcement with the tools to fight terrorism.
- Critics of the Patriot Act say the law violates constitutional privacy rights.
History of the Patriot Act
The Patriot Act, common reference for the USA PATRIOT Act, was passed by the US Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001, following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
It bolstered earlier legislation from April 1996, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, enacted under the Clinton administration in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The Patriot Act was intended to increase homeland security and expand the tools available to law enforcement and federal agents, such as:
• Surveillance, wiretapping and roving phone tapping to track and investigate terrorism-related crimes.
• Obtain company bank statements and financial records to avoid money laundering for the financing of terrorism.
• Improved information sharing between government agencies.
• Tougher sentences for convicted terrorists and those who help them.
• Authorize deferred search warrants.
• Prevent foreigners involved in terrorist activities from entering the United States.
Implications of the Patriot Act
Police officers, FBI agents, federal prosecutors and intelligence officials are better able to share information and evidence about individuals and conspiracies, thereby strengthening their protection of communities.
Federal agents can use court orders to obtain business records from hardware stores or chemical plants to determine who can buy materials to build bombs. Bank statements can be obtained to determine if a person or entity is sending money to terrorists or suspicious organizations.
National Security Letters
The Patriot Act expanded the use of FBI-issued national security letters that are issued without a judge’s approval to obtain phone records, bank records, or computer records.
The Patriot Act impacts finance professionals and financial institutions with its provision of Title III, entitled “International Money Laundering Abatement and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001”, targeting parties suspected of terrorism, terrorist financing and money laundering.
Banks must also investigate accounts held by political figures suspected of past corruption and there are greater restrictions on the use of internal concentration bank accounts that fail to effectively maintain audit trails.
The Bank Secrecy Act 1970 (BSA), The Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act, requires banks to record cash purchases of instruments with an aggregate daily value of $10,000 or more, an amount that triggers suspicion of tax evasion and other questionable practices and the Patriot Act makes concealing more than $10,000 from anyone’s physical person an offense punishable by up to five years in prison.
The law expanded the definition of money laundering to include computer crimes, bribe of elected officials and the fraudulent manipulation of public funds. Money laundering now encompasses the export or import of controlled munitions not approved by the United States Attorney General.
Benefits of the Patriot Act
The Patriot Act and its merits have been debated since its inception in 2001, and supporters say the law has made counterterrorism efforts more streamlined, efficient and effective.
According to the Department of Justice, the Patriot Act neutralized at least 3,000 agents worldwide, broke up terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, Portland and Northern Virginia, designated 40 terrorist organizations and froze at least 136 million dollars of suspicious assets around the world.
Roaming wiretaps track trained international terrorists to avoid surveillance. The option to delay notifying terror suspects of a search warrant gives law enforcement time to identify the criminal’s associates and eliminate immediate threats to the community.
The Patriot Act facilitates information sharing and cooperation among government agencies so they can better “connect the dots.” With more unity through multiple communication channels, investigators can act quickly before a suspected attack is over.
Increased wiretapping under the Patriot Act allows investigators to eavesdrop on conversations that could potentially threaten a country’s national security, but groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have questioned the risk of abuse telephone tapping of American citizens.
Disadvantages of the Patriot Act
Civil rights groups claimed the Patriot Act violated constitutional rights and allowed the government to spy on individuals without due process and search their homes without their consent.
The law reinforced the use of National Security Letters, NSLs, an administrative subpoena issued by the United States government to collect information, such as phone records or bank statements, for national security purposes. However, the Patriot Act does not require information obtained by an NSL to be destroyed, even for an innocent citizen.
Critics argue that fundamental rights under the Fourth Amendment have been compromised by the Patriot Act because delayed warrants allow officials to enter homes or offices and conduct searches while the occupier is away.
The business, finance and investment communities are affected by increased documentation requirements and due diligence responsibilities of account holders who conduct international business.
Suspected terrorists have been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other sites with procedural delays. In addition, after 9/11, many Muslims, South Asians, and Arabs, and their communities, were unjustly targeted and subjected to racial profiling due to the passage of the Patriot Act.
What is the USA Freedom Act?
To help prevent the Patriot Act from undermining the civil liberties of American citizens, President Barack Obama signed into law the USA Freedom Act on June 2, 2015, ending the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. He also demanded transparency between the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the American people, but allows the government to track suspected foreign terrorists for 72 hours after they enter the United States.
What is a Sneak and Peek search?
The Patriot Act allows federal law enforcement to delay notification and conduct covert searches of homes or offices if deemed necessary while the occupant of a home or business is away.
What is the USA Patriot and Terrorism Reauthorization Act?
Many requirements of the Patriot Act were set to expire in 2005 and despite continuing civil liberties and privacy concerns, President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot and Terrorism Reauthorization Act on March 9, 2006, continuing use of the provisions already in place.
The USA PATRIOT Act, commonly referred to as the Patriot Act, was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001, following the September 11 terrorist attacks. It has built law enforcement capacity in surveillance, money laundering for terrorist financing, and intelligence sharing between government agencies.