The Patriot Act—A Promise For Our Nation

June 15, 2011
“Those twin towers
Standing tall with pride,
Fell with grieving hearts.
Stunned, America cried”.
"I'll not stand by and have good men die without awareness in their heart,
So this day in my plan—full way a battle I’m going to start”.

These two excerpts of poems depict the trying times America endured after the September 11 attacks. More than 3,000 people were killed on September 11, 2001 as a result of the hijacked planes that were crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and in a field in Pennsylvania. America desperately searched for a solution to the serious weaknesses in our national security. Partly in response to the turmoil that followed the tragedy, Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh authored the Patriot Act, which was passed by Congress and quickly signed into law by President George Bush on October 26th, a mere 45 days after the events of September 11. The Act enforces surveillance on potential terrorists and enhances investigatory ability and equipment. Essentially, it provides that any suspected terrorist must be closely watched. Is the institution of the Patriot Act, which safeguards national security, worth the sacrifice of our individual privacy? Proponents maintain that the Patriot Act is worthwhile because it has aided in the prosecution of both terrorists and common criminals. In contrast, opponents argue that the government abuses its powers under the Act, and in the process persecutes innocent people for imaginary crimes.
The Patriot Act is such a controversial topic because it so directly affects our daily lives. Its objective is to eliminate anything preventing law enforcement and intelligence agencies from getting to the bottom of a case. The provisions that instigate the most heated debate are the roving wiretap provision and the sneak and peek provision. The roving wiretap provision allows the FBI to listen in on a suspect’s phone calls. The sneak and peek provision gives the FBI the power to secretly break into a suspect’s house and rifle through his or her private possessions.
The ultimate question is: are you willing to give up privacy in exchange for a greater sense of national security? Are you content with leaving your life an open book for the government in order to ensure that there’s never a destructive attack like the September 11 incident on American soil ever again? “A frightened public, legislators, and law enforcement authorities concluded that if homicidal terrorists could successfully pass themselves off as ordinary citizens, then no ordinary citizen could be automatically ruled out as harmless”. A Fox News poll taken in 2005 “found that 64 percent of Americans were willing to give up some degree of personal freedom to reduce the threat of terrorism”. However, although the Patriot Act definitely fosters a safer environment for Americans, many feel that their civil liberties are in jeopardy.
The Patriot Act’s stricter and clearer provisions have led to the prevention of multiple terrorist attacks, as well as the prosecution of those deemed responsible for them. Enaam Arnaout, for instance, was chief executive of a so-called “charity” called Benevolence International Foundation, based in Palos Hills, Illinois. Before the Patriot Act, “FBI intelligence officers and FBI criminal investigators couldn’t share vital threat related information – even when they were right down the hall and working on the same terrorist cases”. Author Tom Ridge spoke for many when he said that, “Our ability to fight terrorism was inhibited by the inability to coordinate within our government”. After the Patriot Act’s installment, because they were permitted to share information, investigators were able to collaborate, leading to Arnaout’s prosecution. He was found guilty of using unsuspecting people to raise money for Al Qaeda – the same terrorist organization responsible for the September 11 attacks. He also admitted to having connections with Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda. Arnaout was sentenced to over eleven years in prison with solitary confinement. This indirectly saved many lives by cutting off one of Al Qaeda’s major benefactors. If not for the Patriot Act, Arnaout’s deceitful business would still be in operation, and he would continue to exploit altruistic people who merely believed they were donating to an ordinary charity. These people, under the honest impression that they were making the world a better place, were in fact contributing to their own ruin.

Although the Patriot Act is most famous for the exemplary job it does at exposing and prosecuting terrorists, it has also been successful in catching other kinds of criminals. Over the years, “police and prosecutors have increasingly turned the force of the new laws not on al-Qaida cells but on people charged with common crimes”. An ideal example is the case of Alicia Kozakiewicz, who, at the age of 13 in 2002, agreed to leave her home in Pennsylvania and meet Scott Tyree, a man she had met online. He winded up kidnapping her and holding her hostage in the basement of his Virginian home. Luckily, “a Florida man who corresponded with Tyree on the Internet heard about the case and suspected Tyree was the perpetrator”, so he informed the FBI, providing Tyree’s email address. Agents could quickly acquire his home address and rescue her three days after her abduction. Tyree was put on trial and sentenced to almost twenty years in jail. If not for the Patriot Act, Alicia would have been held captive for much longer; by the time the FBI would have eventually gathered enough evidence to obtain a warrant for Tyree’s arrest, it may have been too late. The sneak and peek provision was crucial in this case. If the FBI was still obligated to notify Tyree of the investigation before the search, Tyree would have hidden Alicia and destroyed the evidence. Any good parents who oppose the Act would alter their senses of propriety in an instant if it was their child missing, begging the FBI to do anything it took to rescue their child – whether it meant wiretapping or using the sneak and peek law. How is the Patriot Act any different? The only major disparity between the two is that the Patriot Act is used to locate and lock up criminals to ensure greater security for all Americans, not just one. The Patriot Act is not only strengthening America against terrorist attacks, but providing security in many other aspects.
I’ll leave you with this thought; as lawyer James Zirin wrote, “Remember, we are at war. If someone starts reading cookbooks on how to build a dirty bomb, isn’t this something the authorities should look into?” Law enforcement’s primary goal is to protect us, and it will not let anything impede that, because the choice between privacy and safety is indubitably a no-brainer. The Patriot Act has taken existing powers and codified them into a more coherent whole, which has provided law enforcement with the much needed boost to keep America safe!





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