Usa Patriot Act A Constitutional Issue

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The USA Patriot Act A Constitutional Issue

The USA Patriot Act A Constitutional Issue


The U.S. legislation known as the Patriot Act became law on October 26, 2001, a little more than one month after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (White, 2003). The Patriot Act does not directly address or revise any areas in corrections other than specifying terms of imprisonment for particular crimes. However, it does modify the enforcement of U.S. law. The result may be a larger population of political and/or Muslim prisoners in U.S. correctional institutions, although this remains to be seen (Gunaratna, 2003).

The act is divided into 10 sections or titles. Each section addresses specific issues, remedies, and agencies. Section 106 of Title I defines the president's powers regarding international financial transactions within the U.S. jurisdiction. This was a response to the finding that the alleged 9/11 terrorists had received significant funding from outside the country (Dow, 2004). As a result of this redefinition, it has become more difficult for anyone to transfer funds across the country's borders. Banks and financial institutions must collect, retain, and report more detailed information about each transaction and its participants (Cole, 2003). These efforts have been criticized by privacy advocates and international groups as a fundamental, and possibly illegal, erosion of the privacy rights of non-U.S. citizens.

Section 104 describes another expansion of governmental authority. The attorney general may request military assistance when weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are used within U.S. territory or against U.S. facilities (Chang, 2002). This section weakens the separation between civilian and military authority in law enforcement, as a means of improving communication and coordination between these two institutions. Similar tactics were employed during the Civil War, resulting in the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. This measure attempted to ban the use of military forces in a civilian capacity. Section 104 appears to be one of several legislative exceptions to the 1878 act.

The full title of the Patriot Act is Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001 (Abele, 2004). The act has 10 sections, or “titles,” each of which maps out a specific topic. These titles are as follows: Title I, Enhancing Domestic Security Against Terrorism; Title II, Enhanced Surveillance Procedures; Title III, International Money Laundering Abatement and Antiterrorist Financing Act of 2001; Title IV, Protecting the Border; Title V, Removing Obstacles to Investigating Terrorism; Title VI, Providing for Victims of Terrorism, Public Safety Officers, and Their Families; Title VII, Increased Information Sharing for Critical Infrastructure Protection; Title VIII, Strengthening the Criminal Laws Against Terrorism; Title IX, Improved Intelligence; and Title X, Miscellaneous (White, 2003).

The stated purpose of the Patriot Act is to empower the government to detect and suppress terrorism. Parts of the act expand the government's powers in the areas of surveillance and intelligence gathering. The bill also toughens penalties for those who assist terrorists (Gunaratna, ...
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