The Patriot Act introduced in 2001 in response to terror attacks on September 11 is the subject of severe criticism and it is viewed as a serious threat to private security. Basically, the act limits substantially liberties and rights of citizens of the US as well as immigrants and foreigners, while the major argument of the authorities remain unchangeable to enforce the security and protect national interests of the US. However, it is obvious that application of the Patriot Act and some of its norms should be changed or banned at all to maintain democracy in the US.
The introduction of the Patriot Act in 2001 caused numerous discussions in the US society, even though the act was supported by both houses of Congress. At the same time, the act was a response to the dramatic changes that occurred in the US in 2001. To put it more precisely, the introduction of this law was a part of the response of the US on terror attacks and its major target was to prevent the repetition of other terror attacks. The supporters of the act estimated that this act can almost guarantee the national security of the US and all Americans.
On the other hand, the opponents of this legislative act argued that this act was a great threat to the democracy in the US and to civil rights of Americans as well as other people that were either living or simply visiting or just having business in the US. In such a situation, it is important to analyze the background and the reasons for the introduction of the Patriot Act and assess its impact on average Americans, the situation in domestic affairs at large, the position of foreigners and immigrants in the US in order to understand what the actual consequences of the introduction of the act are or could be in the future.
The background of introduction of the Patriot Act
Obviously, the introduction of the Patriot Act was determined by objective factors that stimulated the American Government to enhance the national security policy. In this respect, it should be said that the Patriot Act was introduced shortly after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. This was probably the largest tragedy in the modern history of the US, when thousands of innocent people had died in the result of the terror attacks, while the national security system and law enforcement agencies proved their inefficiency in the prevention of the terror attacks at such a large scale.
At the same time, the inability of security agencies and law enforcement agencies of the US to protect American citizens from the attacks of terrorist resulted, or at any rate, it was estimated so, from the gaps in the national legislation concerning the problem of security. In such a way, a bit paradoxically though, the susceptibility of the US to the terror attacks on September 11, was viewed as the consequence of the liberties and civil rights of people that were living or simply were at the moment of the attacks in the territory of the US (Van Bergen, 2004, p.137). As a result, the suggestions to improve the existing legislating and enlarge the opportunities of law enforcement agencies in their struggle with terrorists were declared on the top level one of the eagerest supporters of the introduction of the Patriot Act was the President of the US, George W. Bush.
Basically, the supporters argued that law enforcement agencies should have additional rights to investigate and conduct preventive measures in order to minimize the risk of new terror attacks, while the current level of freedom in the US exposed the nation to the great threat making law enforcement agencies unable to prevent terror attacks and protect Americans from terrorists (Cole and Dempsey, 2002, p.78). This is actually why the Patriot Act was supported by the Congress and the law was introduced on October 26, 2001, a month and a half after the terror attacks on September 11.
The effect of the Patriot Act on the domestic level
Nevertheless, in spite of the arguments of the supporters of the Patriot Act, the introduction of this law caused a strong opposition in American society, especially from the part of organizations targeting at the protection of civil rights. Many specialists (Michaels, 2002, p.141) argue that the Act threatens to the private security violating basic human rights and liberties and giving law enforcment agencies practically unlimited authority in the field of private security. It should be pointed out that the act limited consistently the liberties and constitutional rights of Americans and this was the major challenge to the opponents of the act. Basically, they argued that the introduction of this act, even though it may decrease the external threat from the part of terrorists, provokes another, even more serious threat to the national security and to the fundamental principles of the traditional American lifestyle. To put it more precisely, the opponents of the act underlined that it had actually undermined the basic principles of democracy and it also limited the rights and liberties of Americans (Wong, 2007, p.237).
In this respect, it should be said that t Patriot Act provided law enforcement agencies with additional rights that actually threatened to the private security of Americans. For instance, this act increased the ability of law enforcement agencies to search telephone and e-mail communications, as well as medical, financial, and other records. In such a way, Americans turned to be susceptible to the free intrusion of law enforcement agencies in their private life, searching their private information even without receiving any sanctions from the part of a court.
Obviously, these issues affected constitutional rights and liberties of Americans making them exposed to violation of their constitutional rights by law enforcement agencies who could use the Patriot Act to justify their intrusion in the private life of practically any American.
Naturally, such a situation was absolutely unacceptable and several legal challenges have been already brought against the act and the Federal Courts have ruled that a number of provisions of the act are unconstitutional (Michaels, 2002, p.211) that proves that the Patriot Act really threatens to the maintenance of democracy in the US.
The impact of the Patriot Act on the position of foreigners and immigrants in the US
However, the position of foreigners and immigrants in the US after the introduction of the Patriot Act became even worse than the position of an average American. To put it more precisely, the Patriot Act limited consistently the possibilities for foreigners and immigrants to freely enter the country. The measures of control and identification of foreigners and immigrants were enforced substantially. In fact, the Patriot Act has been severely criticized for its authorization indefinite detentions of immigrants. The opponents of the Act argued that it have the Attorney General “unprecedented, new power to determine the fate of immigrants”¦ Worse, if a foreigner does not have a country that will accept him, he can be detained indefinitely without trial”ť (Wong, 2007, p.149). Basically, the law enhanced the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detention and deporting immigrants suspected in terrorism-related acts.
In such a way, the personal freedom of immigrants and foreigner, one of the basic human rights, was under a great threat and, therefore, they could become victims of law enforcement agencies, their mistakes or misuse of their power. In fact, the Act made foreigners and immigrants practically unprotected in face of almost almighty law enforcement agencies.
Moreover, even the property of foreigners in the US was under a threat. For instance, the Patriot Act expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities (Mailman et al, 2002, p.231). Consequently, the security of the financial resources and transactions of Americans and, especially foreigners, were under a threat.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that, in spite of objective factors that forced the US Government to enhance national security legislation, the Patriot Act should be viewed as a very contradictive and arguable law because in terms of the struggle against terrorism and enhancing law enforcement agencies and opportunities to prevent to prevent terror attacks, this law gives the latter almost unlimited provisions and, at the same time, it has limited basic liberties and rights of all Americans and foreigners and immigrants in the US. This is why the implementation of this Act should be more careful and more thoroughly prepared in order to meet the law to the norms of the US Constitution, which cannot be changed whatever external threats to the US are.