Reform the Patriot Act | A Primer

Just 45 days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with virtually no debate, Congress passed the Patriot Act. Many sections of this sweeping law need proper checks and balances to protect our constitutional freedoms. With three sections of that law expiring on December 31, 2009, now is the time for Congress to conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance laws and put them in line with the constitution and our values.

Under this sweeping legislation, the government can …

1) SEARCH YOUR HOME AND NOT EVEN TELL YOU. The USA PATRIOT Act allows the law enforcement to conduct secret "sneak and peek" searches of your home. Investigators can enter your home or office, take pictures and seize items without informing you that a warrant was issued for a very long time – if ever. (SECTION 213)

2) COLLECT INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT BOOKS YOU READ, WHAT YOU STUDY, YOUR PURCHASES, YOUR MEDICAL HISTORY AND YOUR PERSONAL FINANCES. The USA PATRIOT Act gives law enforcement broad access to any types of records – educational, medical, financial, sales, library, etc. – without probable cause of a crime. It also prohibits the holders of this information, like librarians, from disclosing that they have produced such records, under the threat of jail time. While a court order is required to obtain the information, the Act requires that a judge rubber stamp such orders. (SECTION 215)

3) LABEL YOU A "TERRORIST" IF YOU BELONG TO AN ACTIVIST GROUP. The USA PATRIOT Act broadly expands the official definition of terrorism, so many domestic groups that engage in certain types of civil disobedience could very well find themselves labeled as terrorists. (SECTIONS 411, 802)

4) MONITOR YOUR E-MAILS AND WATCH WHAT INTERNET SITES YOU VISIT. The USA PATRIOT Act permits the government to monitor Internet traffic and e-mail communications on any Internet service provider without probable cause by obtaining detailed "routing" information like a web address. While this provision is supposedly aimed at lawbreakers, it sweeps broadly because e-mails and Internet traffic information of innocent individuals cannot be separated from the activity of targeted individuals. (SECTION 216)


5) TAKE AWAY YOUR PROPERTY WITHOUT A HEARING. The USA PATRIOT Act allows the government to seize the assets of an individual or organization without prior notice or hearing if the government says that they have engaged in or are planning an act of "domestic terrorism." Under this law, the government could effectively bankrupt an organization with which it disagrees. (SECTION 806)

6) SPY ON INNOCENT AMERICANS. The USA PATRIOT Act permits a vast array of information gathering on U.S. citizens to be collected and shared with the CIA (and other non-law enforcement officials) without proper judicial oversight or other safeguards. This law effectively puts the CIA back in the business of spying on Americans. (SECTIONS 203 AND 901)

7) PUT IMMIGRANTS IN JAIL INDEFINITELY. The USA PATRIOT Act permits indefinite incarceration of immigrants and other non-citizens without the government having to show that they are, in fact, terrorists. (SECTION 412)

8) WIRETAP YOU UNDER A WARRANT THAT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE YOUR NAME ON IT. The USA PATRIOT Act changes the nature of warrants for wiretaps by requiring judges to approve a wiretap without knowing who is to be tapped nor where it is to be placed. (SECTION 216)

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