The PATRIOT Act: Upholding National Security or Breaking Unalienable Rights?

On May 27th, 2011, President Obama signed the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act. This bill has been at the height of controversy since it was implemented on October 26, 2001. The purpose of the bill was to enhance domestic security against terrorism in response to the September 11th attacks, but it has gone far beyond its preventative purpose and encroached on our constitutional rights.

As Americans we’re facing a dilemma; do we support our Government unconditionally or do we criticize our public officials for infringing on our privacy and constitutional rights?  There are a number of reasons why many Americans have found the PATRIOT Act to be wrong and unpatriotic. The PATRIOT Act violates many of the human and civil rights outlined in the Constitution.  It specifically violates the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Yet, it is difficult to argue that the PATRIOT Act has not been a successful weapon in the arsenal of Homeland Security. Supporters of the PATRIOT Act argue that the controversial provisions of the bill have helped the U.S. thwart terror attacks in the past decade. Nevertheless, how much newly acquired intelligence is worth the infringement on the rights of U.S. citizens?

Here is how the PATRIOT Act violates the Fourth Amendment:

  • Section 206, use of “roving wire taps” to provide surveillance for law enforcement agencies.
  • Section 215, allowance of law enforcement agencies to access any tangible piece of information about American citizens and people living in the United States.
  • Section 6001, the ability to track and provide surveillance on targets with no ties to terrorist organization, also known as “lone wolves.”

The PATRIOT Act essentially allows the government to spy and obtain whatever information they want on any individual in the U.S. Moreover, the government has been less than helpful in revealing its methods or the importance of obtaining information and that leaves U.S. citizens even more in the dark and more skeptical of the government’s role.

American citizens feel as though they are being betrayed, and none more so than the immigrant community.  Immigrants have been the prime targets of the PATRIOT Act, which is critical considering immigrant populations make up a large number of America’s workforce. In Illinois alone, immigrants make up 17.5% of the workforce.

Let’s not fail to mention the discriminatory affect it has had on Americans. American and immigrant Muslims have felt most alienated and discriminated against as recent anti-Muslim sentiment has made them “public enemy number one.” This feeling of alienation and loss of dignity is only further perpetuated through the government’s support of having their unalienable rights infringed upon. One would think with the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, that counter-terrorism and surveillance tactics within the U.S. and abroad would loosen. Yet, to the surprise of many, President Obama signed a renewal of the bill.

Where do we go from this point? Unfortunately, President Obama has let down a large number of his supporters by renewing the PATRIOT Act, and some may even say that this is hypocritical. Others may argue that President Obama has done the right thing in renewing the act because Osama Bin Laden’s elimination doesn’t eliminate the ongoing threat to the U.S. The issue is one that has been hard to define across party lines and politicians are having trouble defining their stance. The question that remains is: How should Americans respond? Do we sacrifice civil liberties for the sake of national security? Or do we speak out against the government and risk being labeled unpatriotic? Only time will tell.

For more information on the PATRIOT Act renewal:


For information in support of the PATRIOT Act: