What impact has the Patriot Act had on civil liberties in America?
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This is to some extent a matter of opinion and definitely differs depending on who you are and what you do. For most Americans, the Patriot Act has had no tangible impacts. However, groups like the ACLU believe that it could have severe impacts on civil liberties.
In theory, the Patriot Act could give the government a lot more of an ability to spy on people simply by arguing that those people are or could be terrorists. There are some indications that provisions have been used to conduct "fishing expeditions" among groups of people who are suspected of terrorism based only on their religion or ethnicity.
However, there have not been any indications that the Patriot Act is having an impact on the lives of the typical American person. We do not (so far as we know) have the government tapping our phones or looking at what we borrow from the library on a regular basis. We have not heard of cases of people being arrested for non-terrorist crimes on the basis of Patriot Act powers.
Therefore, I would argue, the Patriot Act has had little in the way of real impacts on the civil liberties of the average American.
The Patriot Act eases government restrictions on such things as telephone, medical and financial records as well as e-mail communications. By allowing fewer law enforcement restrictions, many people feel this could also be used against non-terrorist organizations, thus abusing an individual's First Amendment rights.
Until recently, when the Obama Administration ended the practice, the Patriot Act allowed the government to even require public libraries to keep records of who checked out what books, and to submit them to the government upon request. Many libraries shredded their records each night to protest the practice.
It also widely expands the power of police and government agents to tap phones, search computer records and monitor emails and internet traffic.
Lastly, it allows the government to arrest and detain US citizens without charge or trial if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is somehow associated with terrorist activity. Of course, the FISA court that oversees and approves such arrests does so without public transparency.
The biggest thing as I see it is it is that the Patriot Act affected the system of weights and balances in government. It made it legal for the government to be more intrusive with less cause. If they so chose, the government could invade the private lives of private citizens with very little evidence.
The Patriot Act is in place to make it easier for the law enforcement agencies prevent terrorist attacks against Americans. It is a fine line between violating citizen's rights and protecting their lives.
I think #4 gives a very good example of the needless intrusion of government into our own private lives which has been facilitated by the Patriot Act. Whilst it is important for agencies to be able to access information about citizens who may be inclined to commit a terrorist act, as #6 puts it, we need to be immensely careful that we do not sacrifice civil liberties that people have died to protect over the years and create a police state.
While I certainly do not want the government intruding into private citizens' lives, I think that the Patriot Act has had little to do with an invasion of privacy because many Americans foolishly publicize much about themselves that should be kept private, making the Patriot Act unnecessary. I'm not demonizing social networking sites or the like, but think about how much information most of us put out there about ourselves that anyone (government agencies included) have access to. Similarly, I discovered last summer that our school's police officers--because of their law enforcement status--have special access to students' profiles on Facebook so that they can "monitor school-related" postings and activities. When we asked them if that access was part of the Patriot Act, the officers said no.
As technology continues to progress rapidly, individuals must take personal responsibility for their privacy.
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