This 342-page act was passed by Congress on Oct. 26, 2001, six weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Its stated purpose was to improve intelligence-gathering efforts between federal, state and local law enforcement in order to prevent further terrorist attacks. The act:
-- Expands the definition of terrorism to include "domestic terrorism," which could subject political organizations to surveillance, wiretapping and criminal action.
-- Expands the authority of law enforcement to conduct secret searches, meaning a home could be searched without the occupant being informed for up to 90 days.
-- Gives law enforcement the power to conduct phone and Internet surveillance, and to access medical, financial and student records with minimal judicial oversight.
-- Allows government agents to obtain library circulation records, bookstore sales records or research database records, without having to show probable cause that the records are related to a crime.
-- Allows FBI agents to investigate American citizens for criminal matters without probable cause if they say it is for "intelligence purposes."
-- Allows non-citizens to be jailed on suspicion of terrorism, without charges and without legal counsel, indefinitely in six-month increments without meaningful judicial review of their cases.
-- Allows the government to monitor communications between federal detainees and their attorneys, removing the right to attorney-client privilege.
-- Allows the government to deny non-citizens re-admission to the United States based on speech.
According to the ACLU, the Patriot Act violates the following
-- First Amendment: Freedom of religion, speech, assembly and freedom of the press.
-- Fourth Amendment: Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
-- Fifth Amendment: No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
-- Sixth Amendment: The right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury, including the right to be informed of the facts of the accusation, the right to confront witnesses and the right to legal counsel.
-- Eighth Amendment: No excessive bail or cruel and unusual punishment shall be imposed.
-- Fourteenth Amendment: All persons within the United States are entitled to due process and the equal protection of the law.
Since the Patriot Act was passed:
-- 8,000 Arab and South Asian immigrants have been detained without charges.
-- President Bush has ordered military tribunals be set up to try suspected terrorists who are non-citizens. The courts would have the authority to convict based on secret evidence.
-- On June 19, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia allowed the federal government to keep secret information about the arrests and detention of at least 762 immigrants arrested for violating their visas, or as "material witnesses" for the investigation into the World Trade Center attack. Approximately 500 of them have been deported. The 2-1 ruling backed the government's decision not to release the names or even the exact number of those arrested, rejecting the plaintiffs' argument that this violated the Freedom of Information Act. The case is likely to go to the Supreme Court.