Discussion Of Whether The American Government Should Abolish The Patriot Act
The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on Tuesday, September 11th 2001 left America and the rest of the world in a state of terror and panic. Shortly after the events of that day the USA PATRIOT act was passed by George W. Bush. The name ‘Patriot act’ is an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The name says it all, the act is supposed to “deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world”. It allows officers greater authority intercepting communications for safety purposes and it grants more legislative and executive power to battle corrupt institutions for foreign money laundering. But it more vigorously works to prevent foreign terrorists from entering the country and to apprehend those who are within the United States borders. Next to this new division of power the act establishes new penalties and new techniques to battle national and international terrorists. You might already have guessed that this new law is a topic for major controversies. For example opponents of the Patriot act claim it serves as the Big Brother of the twenty-first century. However, advocates of the act disagree and see it as appropriate measures to take in times of need. This eventually leaves one quest: Should the American government abolish the Patriot act?
There are several reasons to be against the violation of privacy. For instance, the government exists for several reasons, one of them is to secure general welfare of the people, in other words, to protect human rights. “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” This is article 12 of the International Constitution of Human Rights. This clearly states that no one shall violate ones’ privacy. As said earlier the Patriot act grants power to, boldly said, violate ones’ privacy. This is the contrary of what is stated in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution which is the following: “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.” This means that the Patriot act is against the law.
Opponents of the Patriot act believe that availability heuristic plays a significant role in letting people believe that the chances of a terrorist attack are bigger than they actually are. The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut where the mind links a certain image to a specific topic. When the image of a disastrous outcome is attainable to the mind people will generally be more concerned about taking that risk. For example, ask people how much they would pay for travel insurance regarding outcomes of ‘terrorism’. People will pay a substantial amount more than when they are asked how much they would pay for travel insurances for all causes. This can be justified by the fact that the mind links certain disastrous images to the word ‘terrorism’, thereby crowding out thoughts of probability. Research shows that from the beginning of 1975 through the end of 2016, 7548 people have been killed by animals and 3438 people have been killed by terrorists native and foreign to America. This means that the chances of being killed by an animal are almost 46% higher than the chances of dying of the results of a terrorist attack. Another argument can be introduced by: “Security is both a feeling and a reality”, and security has everything to do with tradeoffs, if you desire security, you are going to have to trade something for it. Whether it is money for your new security system, or time to take another safer route to work. And security is not about whether it makes us safer, it is about whether it is worth the tradeoff. We respond to the feeling of safety and not the reality, most of the time the feeling and reality are the same. This makes room for a phenomenon called ‘security theatre’, this phenomenon uses the minds’ capability to use cognitive bias. Cognitive bias limits the mind in thinking objectively, this is caused by the tendency of the brain to perceive information through a filter of personal emotions and experiences.
After the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in New York City, everyone in America was afraid to fly, as a response the organization Transportation Security Administration of the government placed soldiers with big rifles at airport security stations. And although these rifles did not contain bullets, it made the people on the airport automatically feel safer. This is an example of the security theatre the American government created after the attacks of 9/11 to dull the widespread emotions of fear.
Since September 11th 2001, the American government has developed greater appetite for bigger and more capable databases to obtain personal data in order to be able to prevent future attacks by foreign- and native-born terrorists. These databases are another significant case of security theatre, because these systems simply do not work. The following quote is from Dr Tether’s testimony to, amongst others, the United States House of Representatives: “Data mining is inherently flawed in its ability to find extremely rare instances of patterns across an extremely wide variety of activities and hidden relationships among individuals”. And although the Patriot act made this activity legal, it is not clear if the systems are efficient enough and if the costs outweigh the benefits.
However opinions are divided as to whether ‘fishing for crimes’, as some call it, is in fact justified. There is a significant part of the American population that believes the act is a necessary tool in preventing terrorist attacks. As of February 2011, 42% of the population believed it was in fact necessary, and 34% believes the act is posing a threat to civil liberties. The remaining 23% do not have an opinion about the issue.
The act was passed on October 26th 2001, only 45 days after the attacks of 9/11, which caused a lot of people to believe it was only designed to detect and detain terrorists. And however the focus evidently lies on preventing following acts of terrorism, the act has some additional purposes. One of them is “To strengthen U.S. measures to prevent, detect and prosecute international money laundering and financing of terrorism”. Financial institutions were required to start monitoring their accounts for certain behaviour that might indicate money laundering schemes. Research shows that in 2016, 1201 investigations were initiated, 1010 of these cases were followed by prosecution and finally 668 cases were sentenced to confinement to either home detention; halfway house; federal prison or some combination thereof. This proves that although the act may not be as effective in preventing terrorism, it certainly is effective in preventing money laundering, an important aspect of the act. Section 402 of the patriot act authorizes tripling of the northern border security personnel and provides 50 million US dollars for INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and Customs to enhance their monitoring equipment along the Northern border. Section 404 of the act allows State Department and INS personnel to look into the FBI’s Wanted Person File when looking into the background of a visa applicant. Section 411 enables the Attorney General and Secretary of state to exclude anybody with ties to terrorism more easily, it authorizes exclusion of children and partners of anybody linked to terrorist organization within the last five years. Note that the government can already exclude such people because they are entering the country with the intention to engage in ‘unlawful activities’. All these sections of the patriot act contribute to preventing foreign terrorists from entering the country.
To compare these contrasting perspectives, I will review the credibility of the arguments of both perspectives and the value each argument has to this debate. The first perspective opposes the Patriot act. It is against the power that is granted to authorities which enables them to look into any sort of data without obtaining a search warrant first. The first argument that is presented states that the Patriot act is against the Fourth Amendment of the American constitution. This is a very strong argument because it is based upon verifiable facts. Before he entered Office and officially became United States president, George W. Bush, like every other president that came before him, had to take an oath saying that he will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. However by passing the Patriot Act he violated this oath. The second argument involves psychology, many psychologists claim the availability heuristic plays a significant role in allowing people to believe that the chances of a terrorist attack are higher than the chances of, for instance, an animal attack. There is plenty of research that supports this argument. However, it is never really clear on how many people the availability heuristic has an effect. This makes the argument less powerful than other arguments that are based upon facts.
The last argument is about the phenomenon ‘security theatre’, it makes people feel like they are safe without actually being safe. The American government claims data mining makes it easier to detect terrorists and prevent their actions, while in reality these systems do not work properly. This information is obtained from a testimony by Dr Tether. Although this argument uses psychology to substantiate the point they want to get across, the statement was made by an established computer scientist. This makes the source more reliable. The second perspective is in favour of the Patriot act. The act not only grants greater power to authorities to prevent terrorism, it also contains an immigrant and border control policy and policies to help prevent money laundering financing terrorism and drug trafficking. Polls show that over 40% of the American population thinks that the act is a necessary tool in keeping the population safe. However, this source is not very reliable because, the website does not show how many, and what kind of people these findings are based upon. For instance, opinions of people in Maryland will most likely differ from those in Arizona.
A second argument is that the act not only uses data to prevent ‘unlawful’ things from happening, it also funds certain programs keeping the country safe by preventing foreign terrorists from entering the country. However, because the investigations that authorities initiate are secretive, it can never be said with certainty how many people for instance the immigrant policy has kept out of the country. This also means that it is not clear how many attacks the Patriot act has prevented throughout the years.
To conclude, writing this essay and conducting all the research has significantly helped me gain interest in the topics of privacy and terrorism. I am especially taken in by how these two topics have intertwined throughout the years. I began this essay thinking I already knew the answer, and believed the authorities obtained strictly necessary information from civilians, this caused me to support the Patriot act. This discussion involves moral questions however and therefore makes it a very sensitive topic. Therefore to answer the question: “Should the American government abolish the Patriot act?” I feel it is necessary to put emotions to the side and make a decision based on facts and the value thereof. The fact that the perspective that is against the violation of privacy contains a lot more verifiable facts has caused me to change opinion and research convinced me to be for abolishing the act altogether.
- Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. (2006). Statement by Dr Tony Tether. Retrieved from https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/congress/2006_hr/060329- tether.pdf
- Dominguez, T. (2015, May 13). What is the Patriot Act [Video file]. Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXPZ4OXFhiI
- Duignan, B. (2018, December 20). USA PATRIOT Act. Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/USA-PATRIOT-Act o HRRC. (1998). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/edumat/hreduseries/hereandnow/Part- 5/7_udhr-full.htm
- IRS. Statistical Data Money Laundering & Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) | Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved January 5, 2019, Centre name: Porta Mosana College, Centre nr: NL109, Candidate name: Eline Hoekstra, Candidate nr: 0041, Research Question: Should the American government abolish the Patriot act? from https://www.irs.gov/compliance/criminal-investigation/statistical-data- money-laundering-bank-secrecy-act-bsa
- Jenks, R. (2001, December 1). A Summary of the Anti-Terrorism Law’s Immigration-Related Provisions. Retrieved January 7, 2019, from https://cis.org/Report/USA-PATRIOT-Act-2001
- Kline, C. L. (2008, February 29). SECURITY THEATER AND DATABASE- DRIVEN. Retrieved January 4, 2019, from https://www.utoledo.edu/law/studentlife/lawreview/pdf/v39n2/Kline%20Corr%2 0Final.pdf
- Nowrasteh, A. (2018, March 8). More Americans Die in Animal Attacks than in Terrorist Attacks. Retrieved January 4, 2019, from https://www.cato.org/blog/more-americans-die-animal-attacks-terrorist-attacks
- Rouse, M. (2017, February). Cognitive bias. Retrieved January 4, 2019, from https://searchenterpriseai.techtarget.com/definition/cognitive-bias
- Sunstein, C. (2014, May 15). Terrorism and Probability Neglect. Retrieved January 4, 2019, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/C_Sunstein/publication/263683148_Terro rism_and_Probability_Neglect/links/0c96051f52dfbd2d79000000/Terrorism- and-Probability-Neglect.pdf
⚠️ Remember: This essay was written and uploaded by an average student. It does not reflect the quality of papers completed by our expert essay writers. To get a custom and plagiarism-free essay click here.