Where Are We Going With the Patriot Act?

It seems that we have lost our composure as well as our sanity by allowing laws to be enacted that could only happen in countries which we call tyrant and human rights violators.

Back in October 2001, the United States Congress hurriedly and without really thoughtfully examining various provisions of the Bill passed Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, called in short “PATRIOT” Act.

In fact many of the Senators and Representatives have admitted that they did not read all the provisions of the Bill before voting on it.

Under the Patriot Act the government is able to search any forms of communications and eavesdrop on communications of the suspected individuals.

The government would receive one court authorized blanket warrant to tap any telephone, e-mail, and cell phone of the suspect anywhere in the nation. Before Patriot Act, for each line of communication the government was required to obtain separate warrant, not any more.

Furthermore, the government can search into the financial, credit card records, credit reports, library records of the individual without his knowledge or his consent.

Also the warrant could be obtained through a lower standard, as before Patriot Act, the government must prove probable cause in order for the court to issue a warrant. Under the Patriot Act, all needed is reasonable belief that the suspect is involved in some kind of terrorist activities.

The government is authorized to use pen register, trap and trace devices, which not only could listen to the conversation, but also trace the point of destination and identify the other party communicating with the suspect.

This is the most intrusive and broadest search and seizure ever issued to the government which is in direct contract to the Constitution of the United States.

Patriot Act also allows and encourages third party to cooperate by providing tangible evidence and they are immunized from any legal actions brought against them by the party whose information were given to the government.

Furthermore, under this Act the bank privacy is relaxed and such information could be easily shared with various departments for terrorism investigations, all without the suspect’s knowledge or consent.

Under this Act, the grand jury hearing and the information presented may be disclosed to any federal law enforcement, intelligence, protective, immigration, national defense, or national security officer to assist in the performance of his official duties. Of course the danger is that the government may start using grand jury as for intelligence gathering purposes or to spy on the Americans. Furthermore, under this Act, Banks must fill out form SAR to report any transaction exceeding $5,000 which they suspect may be derived from illegal activity. Money transmission businesses and those that deal in travelers’ checks must fill out form SAR for any transaction exceeding $2,000. The Act also requires the securities and other commodities merchants to report any suspicious activity.

Businesses that previously were required to only file form 8300 with IRS for cash transactions over $10,000 must now fill out form SAR as well. Form SAR is intended to alert IRS as well as the law enforcement agencies that there may be some illegal or criminal transaction being conducted. All these institutions as well as government employees are immune from any legal action brought against them by the individuals on whom the reports were made. Since there is immunity, that means there is no incentive for filing accurate information and as the result people may be wrongfully watched and their lives to be turned upside down. By the time the innocent one succeed in proving the government to be wrong, their lives would be shattered both professionally and financially not considering the emotional distress and anxiety that one would suffer in dealing with these kind of situations. Furthermore, since the banks and financial institutions need to file SAR reports, they have to know their customers better, which means gathering more private information, in particular on the foreign customers.

The Patriot Act expands the power of the government to seize the properties of the individuals suspected of money laundering or other criminal offenses.

Under the Patriot Act the immigrants could be more easily deported from the USA as well as denying of entry to the foreigners if the government believes that the individual is engage in terrorist activity or represents a terrorist organization. Furthermore, this provision also denies entry to the spouse or children of the individual or is either engaged in terrorist activities or supports organizations who are engaged in such activities. Of course the big question is what is a terrorist organization? Since the designation of organizations engaged in the terrorism is vested with the Department of Justice and State Department, then they can arbitrarily label any organization as terrorist organization even though that in reality these organizations are political organizations and are not engaged in death and destructions.

The Patriot Act empowers the Attorney General substantially and as such these powers could be misused or abused.

Under this Act the penalties are increased for criminal activities related to terrorism. The Act also expands the types of crimes and adds new criminal offense which some of these criminal offenses are already subject to prosecution, but the Act defines them more clearly as well as being more inclusive.

The Patriot Act authorizes the government to conduct “Sneak and Peek” which is for the law enforcement entering a physical place or cyber place and examine anything they deem fit, take pictures, copy documents, download computer files, etc. without actually taking any tangible items which could reveal their presence, and leave the place without notifying the individual. This is clearly contrary to protection that is afforded to all individuals under the Fourth Amendment.

The Patriot Act also allows the magistrate to issue a search warrant for within or outside of its district for suspected terrorist activities. This means a search warrant becomes a nationwide search warrant. Prior to this Act, the magistrate could only issue such warrant for its own district.

The Act allows the Attorney General to collect sample DNA of individuals convicted of any crime of violence or terrorism.

The government could also have access to educational records of individuals suspected of any terrorism without their knowledge or consent.

The Statute of limitation for federal crime except murder has been expanded to indefinite contrary to five years which was the time limitation to bring some one to court for such crimes. There is no statute of limitation for murder.

The Act requires background checks on anyone applying for license to operate vehicles carrying hazardous, chemical, or bio-chemical material. The background check includes any criminal records as well as the immigration status of the individual.

Now comes the updated and expanded version of the Patriot Act called Patriot Act II.

Act II is packed with provisions that make any reasonable minded person’s head turn. For sake of time and not causing your blood to boil, this article will only discuss some of the provisions of the Act.

Act II make the surveillance of individuals much easier and allow the government, mainly the law enforcement agencies broad power to conduct all types of investigations, surveillance without even the individual ever knowing about them or being ever informed of such surveillance.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) was to set a guidelines for the extent of which the government can conduct surveillance of individuals who may be working for foreign government. FISA allows the government to conduct surveillance without a crime being committed, but set a restriction, that is the surveillance must meet the primary purpose test, which is the individuals may be working for foreign government and not for the purpose of criminal prosecution or some other purpose. Act II also allows the government to obtain a search warrant, wiretap, or electronic surveillance orders aiming at American citizens and legal permanent residents even if they have not connections or ties to a foreign government or foreign power.

Act II also lowers the standard for US citizens which is all the government has to show that the US citizen is involved or may be involved in working for foreign power even though such activities does not relate to any terrorist activities or other crimes.

Act II allows the government conducts surveillance on organizations whose sole interest may be for betterment of humanities, i.e. Amnesty International which is a London based organization and other organizations like them. So if one working for Amnesty International and is working on a report, he/she may be subjected to surveillance and wiretap, etc.

Act II also allows the Attorney General to authorize intelligence wiretaps and other electronic surveillance without permission of any court including Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for 15 days after any attack on the US. Under the current law after the US Congress had declared war, then the Attorney General may exercise certain power for conducting intelligence surveillance for 15 days without any court order. Act II removes such restriction or condition.

Section 104 of the Act II expands special authority to the Attorney General up to one year to no court order at all to conduct surveillance for property under the open and exclusive control of foreign power by allowing eavesdropping on spoken communications. This will obviously result in listening to conversation in the United States of anyone who might be using electrical or electronic devices such as telephone, computers, or any other device with which a communication could be conducted. That includes devices owned by political organizations or foreign governments as well as companies owned by foreign governments.

Section 106 of the Act II immunizes the agents from any liabilities or prosecutions for knowingly conducting surveillance which could very well be illegal. Obviously this provision shall encourage reckless surveillance of innocent people, all the agents have to do is claim that they acted in good faith based on the orders of the President or the Attorney General.

Section 107 of the Act II allows the government to conduct intelligence on the Americans on all sorts of methods of communications such as e-mails, telephone, etc. It also allows the government to conduct surveillance through pen register and obtaining detailed information about the American citizens.

In all as far as the surveillance of American Citizens or lawful permanent residents are concerned the Act II will substantially increases such power of the government to conduct all types of surveillance and limits the individuals rights to know or to be able to protest and prevent such surveillance.

Act II also allows the government to obtain individuals’ credit report and financial information without that person’s knowledge or consent.

As we all know these reports could contain and indeed they do content erroneous information and such erroneous information may cause substantial harm to that individual if the government gets its hands on them. In such instances, there is no opportunity for the individual to contest the erroneous report.

Section 128 and 129 give the authority to the government to issue administrative subpoenas, which does not require court order, for information on individuals from companies such as internet providers and the companies could only challenge such subpoenas through court filing which will cost time and hefty amount of money for the companies to do so. If the company is small one, then such challenge shall become difficult as their financial conditions may not allow them to challenge such subpoenas.

Section 201 shall allow the government to arrest and detain individuals secretly and without public knowledge in immigration and other matters which may not be related to any criminal activities.

The government shall be able to conduct such secret arrest even if the individual being arrested is considered material witness not having done anything wrong himself/herself.

Section 202 of Act II would deprive the communities and environmental organization to have access to the companies who may be polluting the environment or being engaged in activities that are harmful to the environment or the communities.

This provision would also make the whistleblower subject to criminal prosecution for providing any information about the company to the public. This provision is clearly contradictory to the environmental act which limits the companies activities and impose the burden for the companies to make public all activities that may cause harm to the environment and all to be sufficiently documented.

Section 204 of the Act II shall prevent the individuals being accused of criminal activities from defending themselves due to classified information. The government would be able to withhold information from the accused arguing that they are classified which make the prosecution and conviction of the individual much easier, regardless of the truth and innocence of that individual. Under the current law the government argument of the classified information would be reviewed by judge and the information deemed to be classified would be dedacted, but not under Act II, the judges power to do so is eliminated and the government could arbitrarily claim the information classified and forbid the defendant have any access to it for his defense.

Under the Act II the grand jury witnesses are gagged and cannot make any public statements and they are effectively restrained from making statements to defend themselves about any public statements made about them.

So any witnesses in terrorism who go before the grand jury would not be allowed to make any public statement to refute any statements made about them by the media or others which could smear their reputation.

Act II will allow the government to compile genetic information about the individuals who have not been convicted of terrorism and such information would be kept in a database.

Collection and storing such genetic information about individuals could have a far reaching effect. The use of and misuse of DNA information could truly impact the individual’s life whose genetic information was used.

Act II also allows the sharing of sensitive information such as credit information, education, visas, etc. to be shared with local and state officials without any limit and any relation to terrorism investigation.

The draft bill does not include any requirements that sharing of sensitive information with local and state officials be limited to anti-terrorism investigation, but instead such information could be shared just to assist the officials receiving that information in the performance of official duties of that official. As it is quite clear this has nothing to do with fighting terrorism.

Section 312 of the Act II terminates the court approved limits on police spying on the individuals. Under the current law the police officials need to obtain court order in order to spy on individuals or groups, but under the Act II, the court approval is no longer required and police could easily spy on individuals, groups, or political organizations.

Section 313 would protect the business against any liabilities from the individual of whom the company provided information to the government, even if the information were wrong or damaging to that individual.

The standard that would be used by the businesses to get away from any legal actions by individuals is “reasonable belief”. If the company argues that they acted under reasonable belief, then they will be off the hook for any liabilities, never mind that the false information has caused arrest, incarceration, loss of reputation, and financial loss to that individual.

Section 321-322 would allow foreign government to gather information through help of Department of Justice about the US citizens and lawful permanent residence in the US, even if that government is known for human right violation and without any treaties approved by the Senate.

Historically, in order for the US to help any foreign government with any intelligence, there must be a treaty between the two countries. The treaty could only be in effect if approved by the Senate.

Currently US has only such treaty with a few countries. However, under this bill, US can help any government to spy on US citizens or lawful permanent residents for the foreign government.

Patriot II also reduces the right to bail for various crimes. This right is protected under the Eighth Amendment.

The reason for having right to bail is because the suspects/defendants presumed to be innocent till proven guilty.

Under section 408 of Patriot Act II, defendants who were convicted of terrorism and the crime did not pose any risk to life or serious injuries, could still face life long supervision. And if they ever violate the terms of supervision they could end up in jail even though they had originally served their sentence. This section along with section 410 eliminates the statute of limitations for non violent crimes and as the result the wrong doer could be tried at any time with disregard to the time limitation which is currently provided by the law.

Under 411 the death penalties are expanded to include 15 more crimes which before were not subject to death penalty.

Furthermore under this section any activities that end up in a human death, the activist could be charged and sentenced to death, for example, if an environmentalist attempts to block a government activities or a company’s activities that he and his organization believe that could harm the environment and if any one trying to ward off the environmentalist dies, the environmentalist could be sentenced to death, even though his action was peaceful and did not intend to harm or kill anyone. Just because his action under the Patriot Act II is considered terrorist, he would become subject to death penalty because someone died accidentally. Section 409 of Patriot II deprives the pilots from having due process before their license being revoked for conduct that could be constituted as risk to air security.

Sections 421 – 428 expands the role and the authority of government to increase monetary fines and seizing the assets of suspects.

Section 501 would strip an American borne in the United States of his citizenship and subject to deportation to another country whether that country has a government or not. Never before could a US native borne could lose his/her citizenship for being charged to be involved in any organizations that support terrorism even if the person did not know the activities of that organization. The US borne citizen once being stripped of his/her citizenship, he/she would be treated as undocumented immigrant and subject to indefinite incarceration and deportation. Since the person does not have any passport, it would be difficult to imagine any country would take them. He/she would end up in US jail.

The Constitution has not given the power to the Congress to strip any US Citizen, borne in the US, of his/her citizenship, but under Patriot II, the government, in particular Department of Justice would have such power.

Since the power given to Department of Justice (DoJ) is such broad, activities in any good cause organization could cause the participant losing his/her citizenship. For example working with a humanitarian organization could be labeled as terrorism and subject the person to losing his/her citizenship.

Harsher jail terms for undocumented immigrants as well as immigrants who have violated their immigration status even though they have not committed any crime, but for violation of immigration law.

Under Section 503 if the Attorney General says that an immigrant person who is a long life permanent resident is threat to national security, he would be summarily deported, without ever being able to defend himself and hear the charges brought against him.

Under this section the Attorney General’s expedited removal would be immune from judicial review, that is the Court will not have the opportunity to hear the case and examine the actions taken by the Attorney General.

Under Section 506 the Attorney General is authorized to dump immigrants, who are ordered to be removed, in any country in the world, even in areas where there is not law and governing body. For example immigrants could be dumped in countries such as Liberia, Somalia where there is no effective government and groups or factions rule various sections of the countries.

Many after reading the Patriot Act One and Two may argue that there is nothing wrong with these laws. All they are to protect the innocents and capture the villain, also prevent any destruction of lives and properties. On the surface what they argue is absolutely logical, but we keep forgetting is that, there are adequate laws on the book to conduct search and seizure, to pursue the terrorists and capture them before they inflict any damage, we do not need new laws.

Besides the new laws not only go after the potential criminals, but also goes after our freedom and democracy. Millions of lives have been lost during the course of history of the United States in order to maintain and protect the freedom afforded to each and everyone of us by the Constitution of the United States. The Patriot Act I and II with one swift sweep have taken many of the rights that were bestowed upon us by the Constitution in the name of fighting terrorism.

Many centuries ago in the Europe, many innocent people were persecuted and put to death in the name of religion and now in this country innocent people could suffer long time jail sentences, or incarceration without trial and losing everything they have just in the name of fighting terrorism.

The government could fight terrorism much more effectively by; 1. Revising its foreign policy whereby treating our so called allies more equitably. For example in the South Western Asia (erroneously referred to as Middle East), the US government could have a more balanced foreign policy to reduce or prevent the risk of terrorist activities on the US and US interests anywhere in the world.

Unconditional and unequivocal support for Israel without taking into consideration the plight of millions of Palestinians, would create despise among the people of that region who are sympathetic to the Palestinians and subsequently will encourage terrorism against the US.

US has pretended to be a peace broker between Israel and Palestine, but its effort and policies show otherwise. In such a volatile area with such an important issue, the US must implement a more balanced policy in order to capture the trust and respect of all participants and bring hope to the people of the region that one day all of them shall be living side by side in peace and harmony. Unfortunately this ideology is absent specially under the current US administration which from day one of its taking office stated that US will not take an active role unlike the previous administration in bringing peace between Israel and Palestine.

2. Stop supporting tyranic governments who do not serve the people and run by a few group which all they do is amassing wealth. The obvious example is Saudi Arabia in which the masses are very dissatisfied with the ruling government, but they could not do anything because the Saudi Royal family being supported by the US. Osama Bin Laden despised this fact as well as the presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia and we all know what happen then.

We all know that US was the main supporter Taliban when the Soviet Union was in Afghanistan. We also know that it was the US who supported and helped Saddam Hussein to gain power in Iraq. These facts are well documented and no one including the US government denies them.

In 1991 Persian Gulf War, named Operation Desert Storm, the United States forces along with so many other countries went to Kuwait to kick out Iraq and return the dictatorial regime. It was the golden opportunity for the US to help the Kuwaitis to have a new government where by the members are freely elected by the people.

US government has historically supported the dictatorial regimes in the developing countries rather than supporting the people. This has created resentments all over the world and accordingly jeopardized the well being of the Americans and American interest.

3. Instead of alienating the foreigners and immigrants by enacting draconian laws, the government should promote peaceful cooperation and encourage closer ties with the immigrant communities. By doing so, the immigrant communities will voluntarily report any suspicious activities or surrender the potential terrorist to the government. But no immigrant will do such a thing, when they see that their rights have been unjustly violated by the same very group that are supposed to protect that immigrant.

It seems that US government attempts to gain respect through use of force and power and the recent events including the War in Iraq attest to that. Although people and countries may bow to power and force, but would not respect the country, a better and more long lasting respect comes through understanding and helping the countries who are in need of help both politically and economically.

One would always be faithful to the one who help him to better his life, that can be also true in the international arena too. People of other countries would appreciate it more to have the US to help them politically and economically rather than militarily through use of force. Rule through use of power and force must give way to rule through understanding, respect and aid.

We will all benefit from portraying a nicer, gentler, and more generous America.

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