Blog of Rights

The Patriot Act, 10 Years Later

By Ateqah Khaki at 3:34pm

This week marks 10 years since the Patriot Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The ACLU is hosting a blog series that will address some of the sweeping changes to surveillance laws over the past decade. To learn more about the Patriot Act, visit www.aclu.org/patriot.

This Wednesday will mark 10 years since the Patriot Act was enacted. Pushed through Congress without debate, the massive surveillance bill was hastily passed just 45 days after 9/11, and was the first of many changes to surveillance laws over the past decade that made it easier for the government to spy on innocent Americans.

Since the Patriot Act was first enacted, lawmakers have authorized extension after extension, refusing to make any meaningful changes to the law. This is despite the fact that — according to Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) — there are two versions of the Patriot Act: one that the public sees, and a secret interpretation that the government keeps to itself. Senator Wyden has stated, “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.” Furthermore, since its passage, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General has repeatedly found widespread blatant abuse of the statute. Yet, earlier this year, Congress passed a four-year extension of expiring Patriot Act provisions, which are now set to expire on June 1, 2015.

Our new infographic illustrates some of the most troubling aspects of the Patriot Act, and our new timeline contextualizes the Patriot Act alongside other laws and government surveillance programs expanding suspicionless spying on ordinary Americans (as well as ACLU efforts to fight unchecked surveillance).

While much-needed reform of the Patriot Act is likely a few years away, there is something that we can do today to prevent further erosion of our privacy rights. Just as the Patriot Act swept aside long-standing constitutional protections against government prying into private lives, current cybersecurity proposals threaten to expand the government's ability to collect personal information — simultaneously violating privacy rights and overwhelming the government's counterterrorism efforts with too much data. Over the past decade, we have learned that such policies fail on two fronts: they are largely ineffective and they violate civil liberties.

Take action today to tell Congress that we as we move forward to try to protect cyber systems, we must avoid the Patriot Act's pitfalls: a civil-liberties-defying policy that might actually make things worse.

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