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USA PATRIOT Act

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act, H.R. 3162, S. 1510, Public Law 107-56) is a law in the United States. It was passed and signed into law on October 26, 2001 in response to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack.

The bill was passed 98-1 in the Senate with only Senator Russ Feingold[?] voting against. There has been strong criticism of the act on the grounds that certain parts of it violate the Constitution and endanger civil liberties, notably by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). (For instance (according to the ACLU), the PATRIOT Act's permitting issuing warrants on grounds lesser than those mandated by the Fourth Amendment, probable cause, without question violates the plain language of the Constitution, and some have noticed that these warrants resemble the general warrants[?] that were one reason the colonists fought the American Revolution).

Critics allege that the act was passed without serious review amidst a climate of fear and represents a reactionary agenda that has little or nothing to do with the September 11th attacks, pointing to the fact that the act has been around as proposed legislation, in various forms, since well before the attacks themselves occurred, and that some groups had been unsuccessfully seeking its passage for a long time. Candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. presidential election, 2004 have been united in condemning it as it has been applied by US Attorney-General John Ashcroft. However, of these, only Ohio Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich actually voted against it.

Three states in the United States (Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont), and 132 cities (including Eugene, Oregon and Cambridge, Massachusetts) have passed resolutions condemning the Patriot Act for attacking civil liberties. The city of Oakland, California is considering passing a resolution that will bar city employees (including police and librarians) from assisting or cooperating with any Federal investigations under the PATRIOT Act that would violate any civil liberties protected under the Bill of Rights or United States Constitution. Arcata, California became the first city to actually pass such a law. Pundits question the legality of such a law, given the court system's tendency to favor federal laws over local ones in, for example, medical marijuana cases.

The act is 342 pages long and amends over fifteen statutes.

Before passage, only members of the groups designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department could be denied entry to or deported from the United States

The Act extends those actions to any foreigner who publicly endorses terrorist activity, belongs to a group that does, or provides support to a group that does.

The definition of "terrorist activity" is extended to include any foreigner who uses "dangerous devices" or raises money for a terrorist group, whether or not he or she knows the group is engaged in terrorism

The attorney general can order the detention of any foreigners if he certifies that he has "reasonable grounds to believe" involvement in terrorism or activity that poses a danger to national security. He does not need to explain his reasoning or show evidence. Criminal or immigration violation charges have to be brought against such people within seven days, but they can be held indefinitely.

  • expands surveillance with reduced checks and balances
  • expands powers and penalties without direct relation to terrorism
    • Section 217 allows government spying on suspected computer trespassers with no need for a court order
    • Section 503 adds collection of samples to a DNA database for terrorists, as well as for the category of "any crime of violence."
    • allows wiretaps for suspected violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act[?], including anyone suspected of "exceeding the authority" of a computer used in interstate commerce, causing over $5000 worth of combined damage.
    • greatly increases the scope and penalties of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, including 1) raising the maximum penalty for violations to 10 years (from 5) for a first offense and 20 years (from 10) for a second offense; 2) ensuring that violators only need to intend to cause damage generally, not intend to cause damage or other specified harm over the $5,000 statutory damage threshold; 3) allowing aggregation of damages to different computers over a year to reach the $5,000 threshold; 4) enhancing punishment for violations involving any (not just $5,000) damage to a government computer involved in criminal justice or the military; 5) including damage to foreign computers involved in US interstate commerce; 6) including state law offenses as priors for sentencing; 7) expanding the definition of loss to expressly include time spent investigating and responding for damage assessment and for restoration.
  • expands the powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act[?] to spy on Americans or foreign persons in the US (and those who communicate with them)
    • expands the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, from the situations where the suspicion that the person is the agent of a foreign government is "the" purpose of the surveillance to any time that this is "a significant purpose" of the surveillance.
    • allows increased information sharing between domestic law enforcement and intelligence, repealing some of the barriers put up in the 1970s after the discovery that the FBI and CIA had been conducting joint investigations on over half a million Americans during the McCarthy era and afterwards, including Martin Luther King Jr. It allows wiretap results and grand jury information and other information collected in a criminal case to be disclosed to the intelligence agencies when the information constitutes foreign intelligence or foreign intelligence information, the latter being a broad new category created by this law.

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