The USA PATRIOT Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation that increases the power of the government and intelligence agencies to monitor and punish terrorists and suspected terrorist activity. The full name of the legislation is the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, hence the acronym USA PATRIOT Act.
The framework of the Act was drafted by President George W. Bush (b.1946) and Attorney General John Ashcroft (b.1942). It was presented to Congress days after the September 11th attacks in 2001. Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act in October and the President signed it into law the same month.
In order to grant the executive branch of the government the enhanced powers it demanded, the Act amended 15 other federal laws. The Act contains 10 titles, each consisting of subsections describing different types of terrorism and the ways these should be handled. Title I, on increasing domestic security against terrorism, establishes a Counter terrorism Fund within the Treasury and sets aside money for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Technical Support Center to pay for its fight with terrorism. This title also enhances the president's authority to seize the property of foreign individuals, organizations, or countries that the president decides are planning, authorizing, or helping hostile actions against the United States. Title I also orders the US Secret Service to create a national network of electronic-crime task forces to investigate electronic crimes, including potential terrorist attacks.
Title II, on enhancing surveillance procedures, allows the government to conduct wire taps under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as part of criminal investigations, given that foreign intelligence is a significant purpose of the investigation. This title also authorizes law enforcement to share information with other federal departments and allows FISA authorities to instruct an Internet service provider to provide information about a user's activity. It also allows the intelligence agencies to compel a business to give in personal information if it is related to a criminal investigation. Title II permits the execution of search warrants without informing the suspect ahead of the search.
Title III features provisions to tackle money laundering in order to stifle the illegal drug and smuggling activities through which many terrorist organizations fund their operations. Title IV, dedicated to border control, authorizes a threefold increase in the number of US Border Patrol, Customs Service, and Immigration and Naturalization Service staff working on the Canadian border. This title also gives the Secretary of State the right to denote organizations involved in domestic terrorism. The latter is defined as an activity which causes significant damage to US property.
Title V boosts the government's ability to offer rewards for information that could be of worth in terrorism investigations. Meanwhile, Title VI is devoted to the creation and funding of assistance programs for terrorism victims and their relatives. This title also creates the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, to provide compensations to the victims and their families. Title VII broadens the government's regional information-sharing system, in order to make the response of federal and local law enforcement to terrorism more effective.
Title VIII amends the criminal code to widen the definition of terrorism to include attacks against mass transportation systems, domestic terrorism and material assistance to terrorism. Title IX states the plans for the central intelligence agency to gather information about potential terrorism. Title X argues that the civil rights and liberties of Americans should be safeguarded during the fight against terrorism.
The Act of 2001 contained the so-called sunset clause, which envisaged many of the controversial provisions of the law to expire in 2005. However, Congress reauthorized the Act and the President signed it into a law in March 2006, thereby making 14 of the 16 disputed provisions permanent. A requirement for the reauthorization of the law was that the President's administration should report to Congress on how the Act was being used. However, in his "signing statement," which states his interpretation of the law, President Bush said that he was not obliged to make such reports.
The USA PATRIOT Act has been criticized by privacy advocates over its surveillance provisions. Others have argued against the vague definition of domestic terrorism which is given in the Act. Lawmakers from Congress have also declared the law as "too large and complex," arguing that it was rushed through in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.