The Patriot Act was enacted immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with overwhelming support from the Senate and the House of Representatives. According to the Department of Justice (n.d.), the core purpose of the Act is to preserve the life and liberty of the Americans by preventing current and future terrorist attacks. Therefore, the Patriot Act provides law enforcement agencies with necessary tools and resources to intercept and obstruct terrorism in any part of the United States. More specifically, the Act enhances counter-terrorism efforts through allowing law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations into drug trafficking and organized crime without tipping off offenders. Furthermore, the Patriot Act allows federal agents to secure court orders in order to access private institutions or the individual property, associated with terrorism cases or other financial crimes (Department of Justice, n.d.).
On the other hand, the Patriot Act allows different government agencies to share vital information regarding terrorist activities in order to facilitate law enforcement, intelligence, and other defense efforts. Most importantly, the Act updates the current laws on cybercrimes by aligning them with new technologies, which support new and more sophisticated threats to national security and the United States economy in general. Furthermore, the Patriot Act expands the scope of penalties for terrorist activities to cover bioterrorists, conspiracies, and even spectators (Department of Justice, n.d.). Therefore, in one way or another, the Patriot Act plays a significant role in protecting the Americans against acts of terrorism, except in a few isolated cases where law enforcement agencies have been accused of contravening the basic civil rights, protected by the United States Constitution.
For instance, in the case of Ashton Lundeby, a 16-year old boy who was arrested and convicted for allegedly making a bomb threat from his bedroom computer, one cannot help but notice the lack of proper investigations and overreaction on the part of law enforcers (Lamb, 2009). Superficially, one can suggest that this is the USA Patriot Act case considering that the law enforcement agents had been informed on the origin of the threat. However, since no concrete evidence was recovered from the suspect, at least according to available information regarding this case, Lundeby’s case cannot be interpreted as the USA Patriot Act case. It is very possible that the threat could have been made by someone who had stolen Lundeby’s identity, as suggested by his mother, or maybe the teenager had intentionally made the threat to draw attention to himself. In any case, there is limited information to determine whether this case is a terrorist act or otherwise.
Therefore, to avoid any future violation of the basic civil liberties of the American people, there is the need for all stakeholders to devise ways of striking a balance between protecting the civil rights and crime control in a free and open society. Generally, the United States Constitution provides for the preservation of the basic civil rights, protection of the rights of the accused, and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law (Riley, 2007). These basic features form the core of a free, democratic, and open society. However, it is no secret that most contemporary societies are embracing new cultures, which can be attributed to a shift in globalization and technological advancement. With these changes, more complicated and very dangerous forms of crime arise, and hence, law enforcement agencies are forced to look for alternative means of addressing the new threats. Sometimes, it is generally acceptable for law enforcers to limit some of the basic civil rights in the name of national security. Overall, despite the United States Constitution providing the necessary avenues for the realization of the basic rights and freedoms, every American citizen has the duty to ensure that in the process of exercising one’s rights and freedoms, the basic rights and freedoms of other citizens are recognized and respected. Besides, the process of exercising one’s rights and freedoms should reflect morality, public order, and the welfare of the society in general (Riley, 2007).
On the other hand, the law enforcement agencies have the duty to ensure that there is sufficient evidence to warrant a raid or an arrest. For instance, in the case of Ashton Lundeby, it is apparent that the raid was unnecessary because there was no sufficient information to suggest that the teenager was a terrorist. This implies that evidence suggesting that a crime originated at a specific location is not sufficient enough to raid private property leave alone make an arrest. Besides, it is important to note that most terrorist networks have devised ingenious ways of evading law enforcers, some of which may include identity theft and computer hacking. As a result, there is the risk that innocent Americans may find themselves at odds with that very law that seeks to protect them against terrorism if the law enforcement agencies are going to rely on unconfirmed tip-offs and other insufficient computer forensic investigations. The best thing to do under circumstances involving cyber-terrorism is to devise ways of monitoring the terrorists through online chat-rooms and setting traps, which will lead to their arrest when there is sufficient evidence.
Accordingly, a number of changes are necessary in order to ensure that the unchecked powers handed over to law enforcement agencies through the Patriot Act do not work against the basic civil rights of the American citizens. More specifically, the Patriot Act should be amended in order to ensure that it does not override the “probable cause” as captured in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), should show reasonable suspicion that the subject under investigation is a terrorist or a criminal. However, under the Patriot Act, the only thing the law enforcement agencies are required to do is to show that someone or certain records are associated with terrorism or any other foreign intelligence investigation (American Civil Liberties Union, 2010). This form of expanded and unchecked access to private property is in direct contravention of the basic civil rights, and hence, it should be changed in order to ensure that the law enforcement agencies provide sufficient evidence beyond any reasonable doubt before obtaining a court order to make a raid or an arrest. Otherwise, the core purpose of the Patriot Act is well-meaning, and the Act can go a long way in terms of preserving the life and liberty of the American citizens with proper implementation.