Type of paper: Essay

Topic: America, Patriot, Patriotism, Terrorism, United States, Law, Social Issues, Confidentiality

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2021/02/01

Institutional Affiliation

The USA PATRIOT Act was presented almost immediately following September 11, 2001, and was brought into law on October 26, 2001. The contents of the of the legislation involved broad expansions of the government’s policing powers, including expanded surveillance and authorization for warrantless searches relevant to terrorism, where warrants were once required. The merits of the bill have been widely debated but what is more clear than whether or not the provisions of the act are necessary, however, is that the Patriot Act has had significant effects on American society and the lives of American citizens. Further, the act, unintentionally or not, has unfairly targeted Muslim Americans who are usually of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. What is incredibly important to also note is that with the shift towards electronic communication via the internet in today’s modern technological landscape, the effects of the broadened policing powers of the government are amplified. Essentially, the act impinges on the civil liberties of Americans under the politics of preventing terrorism, with a real effect of chilling free speech, fostering prejudice against Muslim Americans and damaging internet and computer privacy.

Societal implications of the USA Patriot Act

With regards to societal impacts for all persons in America, the Patriot Act opens the door to allowing police and other government agencies to take action against any person who may be involved with terrorism, regardless of whether or not that person is breaking the law. Being involved with terrorism may include simply talking to someone who is suspected of being part of a terrorist operation. In such a case, the government may issue a National Security Letter (NSL) in order to search through files that should be protected under the constitution. As a matter of fact, the American Civil Liberties Union has noted that, “Numerous Department of Justice Inspector General reports have confirmed that tens of thousands of these letters are issued every year and they are used to collect information on people two and three times removed from a terrorism suspect” (Reform the Patriot Act, 2011). By having the scope of these potentially unconstitutional searches radiate so far away from the prime suspects, many innocent Americans are caught in the crossfire and end up having their credit or financial records and communications intrusively looked through.
The First Amendment is also affected. Library records around the nation are subjected to provisions of the act, which compels libraries to hand over information on people who are often very loosely relevant to any sort of terrorist activities. The American Library Association (ALA) has stated on their website that:
The ALA believes certain sections of the USA PATRIOT Act endanger constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users. Libraries cooperate with law enforcement when presented with a lawful court order to obtain specific information about specific patrons; however, the library profession is concerned some provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act go beyond the traditional methods of seeking information from libraries (Privacy and Confidentiality, 2015).
This is troubling because the result that the Patriot Act has is that by casting a rather broad net on who may be searched via NSLs and having library records searched, is that a chilling effect is placed on what any person may decide to read from a library. The fear that may sit in the back of someone’s mind that their records might be searched leads to them reducing the potential options that they may wish to read about, which amounts to an infringement on First Amendment rights.

Concerns related to race, ethnicity, and religion

Aside from the expanded powers which affect all Americans, the Patriot Act also has implications for both Arabs and Muslims, who have been disproportionately affected by interpretations of the act. This is demonstrated by the fact that despite representing a relatively small minority of citizens in the United States, as of 2004 a majority of complaints to the Department of Justice regarding detention under the law were made by Muslim Americans or American Arabs (Senzai, 2004). An example that represents these discriminatory practices is the detention of 6 imams (Muslim clerics) in Minneapolis in November 2006. The imams all prayed together before boarding the plane, which ultimately led to them being removed and questioned by federal law enforcement for hours (Schulte, 2006). The targeting also extends to financial monitoring under the act, where Muslim account holders with banks can have their accounts frozen or blacklisted (Senzai, 2004). For example, a Muslim American may have family in a part of the world where some terrorist organizations may hold bases or operations. They may try to send money to their family overseas who need it for support, only to have their transaction blocked until they are questioned to clear their innocence. What cannot be escaped is the fact that such interpretations and applications of the Patriot Act serve to alienate and anger Muslim Americans across the country who feel like they are being unfairly singled out because of the actions of others. By making members of these groups feel threatened and vilified, national security interests may not be furthered but actually hurt.

The impact of technology on the balance of individual rights against public safety

With technology changing the way people communicate, do business and learn via the internet, the Patriot act has noteworthy implications for the electronic world. Previous communication laws, including the state’s ability to procure information regarding suspects in criminal proceedings or police investigations were updated to include computer communications. This is of course necessary as laws must adapt to the way the world works as it changes in order to maintain public safety. However, Chris Raab from Duke Law notes that this update, listed in section 210 of the act, did more than just apply previous laws to the internet. He writes, “section 210 places payment information (such as bank account and credit card numbers) within the purview of a governmental subpoena. This is disturbing because neither administrative nor grand jury subpoenas require a warrant or probable cause” (2006). So, what is seen with the Patriot Act’s updates for electronic financial records, along with the application of NSLs to compel internet service providers to hand over internet data of their customers, is a strengthened government ability to access the records and communications of its citizens without judicial oversight.
This is hugely problematic for privacy rights because the internet is a place of open communication and information sharing, where even people who are interested in learning about global terrorism are very likely not actually dangerous at all. Similarly, people who read about murderers should not be implicated as being murderous themselves. However, the provisions of the Patriot act may lead to such individuals having their privacy invaded unnecessarily, which can take a toll on the confidence of a society in their own government’s good faith.

The influence of domestic and international terrorism

All of these factors manifested amidst the backdrop of global terrorism. Many provisions of the Patriot act may not have seen the light of day had it not been for the September 11th hijackings. Also, it is incredibly likely that public support, of both the general citizenry and of elected officials, would not have been nearly so strong if it the attacks had not taken place. The fear caused my terror attacks have not thwarted critics from opposing the bill, but the voices of dissent have failed to mobilize public action and opinion far enough to reverse the bill. Ongoing incidents of both domestic and global terrorism, such as the bombing at the Boston Marathon, serve to reinforce the mentality that liberties must continue to be sacrificed in order to fight terrorism. Important considerations must be made:1) it must be determined whether the threat of terrorism is sufficient to justify an increase in policing powers, and 2) whether the extent of the Patriot act’s provisions go further than necessary in the pursuit of thwarting terrorism.


Overall, while the Patriot Act takes some important steps to helping maintain security against global and local terrorist threats and crimes, its features have important indirect consequences for society. There is a large trade off liberty for apparent security, which is in many ways questionable and is still being questioned and criticized widely. Muslim American’s suffer from extensive and disproportionate use of the act against them by federal officials and are ultimately led to feel alienated by the exercise of its provisions. The act’s invasion of online privacy also constitutes a grave intrusion into what most people may reasonably expect to be free of judgement. Balancing the act back in favour of greater protection of privacy and liberty may work well to restore public faith in the government’s objective of working for the public interest rather than power.


Privacy and Confidentiality. (2015). American Library Association (ALA). Retrieved April 5, 2015.
Raab, C. (2006). Fighting Terrorism in an Electronic Age: Does the Patriot Act Unduly Compromise Our Civil Liberties? Duke Law and Technology Review, 4(1).
Reform the Patriot Act. (2011, May 26). American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved April 6, 2015, from https://www.aclu.org/reform-patriot-act
Schulte, S. (2006, November 21). Imams detained in Minneapolis. ABC 7 News.
Senzai, F. (2004). The US Patriot Act: Impact on the Arab and Muslim American Community. Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

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