The Patriot Act was signed into law October 2001 in response to terrorist actions that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City the month before. The goal of this legislation was to make sure the government had the tools it needed to unite and strengthen the US against future terrorism and combat it. Over the years, the Patriot Act has been extended several times, although part of this law now operates under the USA Freedom Act passed in June 2015. Here are the pros and cons of the Patriot Act that have been observed in the last decade and why each key point is important to consider.
What Are the Pros of the Patriot Act?
1. It streamlines communication protocols between government agencies.
Before the Patriot Act, the US government was very fragmented. Cross-departmental communication was not efficient if it even existed at all. The passage of these laws helped to define a more effective method of communication when investigating potential terrorist activities so there was less red tape in place. This made investigations and surveillance much easier to complete.
2. It increased funding for victims.
Before the Patriot Act, compensation to families for victims off terrorism attacks was quite small. Sometimes if there was not a life insurance policy or health insurance provisions in place, there was no compensation at all. Now there are funds available for care, rebuilding a business, and repairing infrastructure as needed so that Americans do not need to be financially devastated by an act of terrorism.
3. It includes checks and balances to limit power.
Because there were new powers given to the government by the Patriot Act, it became necessary to outline how those powers would be checked and balanced. The design of the US system of government is to provide equalized power to prevent one part of the government to be able to take over the other parts. This allowed the federal government to continue acting as a central force for Americans without disturbing the authority of local, county, and state governments.
4. Job descriptions because more transparent and specific.
The issue at the core of the Patriot Act that was addresses was what specific job duties federal employees needed to perform in order to prevent terrorist. The legislation outlined through the various sections, or “titles,” what each department and what employees in those departments were required to do in proactive and reactive terrorism situations so the homeland could be better protected.
What Are the Cons of the Patriot Act?
1. Many of the checks and balances were kept secret from the American people.
As details of the Patriot Act have been revealed over the years, it has shown that a network of secret courts, secrete surveillance, and other activities that may run counter to the spirit of the Constitution have been implemented. Security has been greater, but at the expense of personal freedoms.
2. It hasn’t completely protected Americans from terrorism.
The bombing at the Boston Marathon proved that the provisions included in the Patriot Act are not 100% foolproof. Then there’s the response that occurred in Boston as the bombers were hunted down. Homeowners were forced out of their homes for law enforcement searches without warrants, setting a dangerous precedent should a future incident occur.
3. It justified the use of questionable interrogation and imprisonment techniques.
The detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was created with help from the Patriot Act, allowing the US to hold suspected terrorists without charges as an “enemy combatant” without the Geneva Convention privileges that a prisoner of war status would provide. Some detainees were held there for years. Enhanced interrogation techniques, which many would call torture, were also used to obtain information from detainees.
4. It allowed all semi-public records to be directly monitored by the government.
The Patriot Act helped to lessen the fear that Americans felt in response to September 11, 2001, but it also meant that the government received sweeping new powers of observation. From website search logs to cell phone records to library records, the government was able to look at the lives of ordinary Americans without just cause to screen them out as a potential terrorist.
The pros and cons of the Patriot Act show that security was enhanced, but at a price. What that price too high to pay? That question will likely split Americans for or against this legislation for many years to come.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.