The Patriot Act: 20 Years of Government Spying on YOU

Twenty years ago today President George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act into law. The 52,000-word act sailed through Congress under the Orwellian title, “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001.” It passed the House of Representatives within 24 hours and was subsequently rubber stamped by the Senate the very next day with only one lone dissenting vote.

President Bush said the “carefully drafted and considered” measure was “essential not only to pursuing and punishing terrorists but also preventing more atrocities in the hands of the evil ones.” 

With the stroke of a presidential pen, the War on Terror began. The Patriot Act ushered in the wholesale evisceration of a myriad of protections allegedly guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. Ostensibly written to “to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and across the globe,” the Patriot Act has instead become a tool of terror in its own right. 

Perhaps the most egregious of the new “tools” was the widely-expanded use of National Security Letters (NSLs). Originally a weak and rarely-used investigative tool, NSLs were bulked up substantially by the Patriot Act by allowing agents to use them to subpoena telephone, email, and financial information without any oversight by the courts. In the first four years of the Patriot Act, FBI agents used NSLs tens of thousands of times to obtain financial, health, credit, and employment records from businesses, and in many cases, the records obtained included information on individuals who were wholly unconnected with the alleged crimes the agents were investigating. 

The Patriot Act also led to the creation of two new federal agencies: the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Safety Administration. DHS was born as a Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together from departments across the entire Federal government and placing them under a single Secretary of Homeland Security. With $49.8 billion in tax dollars at its disposal in FY 2021 and almost a quarter million employees on the payroll, DHS has yet to prevent a single act of terrorism in the department’s entire existence.

Meanwhile, the TSA has spent two decades attempting to grope its way to establishing safety in the skies. Every passenger on a commercial airliner in the United States has gone through the drill — take your shoes off and put them into a luggage scanner that can’t detect explosives while you “assume the position” in a body scanner that can only detect a narrow range of weapons. Test after test of the Agency has shown that up to 95 percent of the weapons introduced into their security theater make it through the process entirely undetected. The TSA’s track record of finding and thwarting terrorists is zero, but several hundred TSA agents have been fired for stealing from passengers over the agency’s lifetime. 

It’s unlikely that the public will ever know the full extent of rights violations perpetrated by the state under the auspices of the Patriot Act. What we do know is that, for the better part of two decades, both the old parties stood idly by as these abuses occurred. Under presidents and congresses of both parties these awful provisions remained on the books, reauthorized with minimal debate and allowing agents of government to creep through the private lives of innocent Americans at will.

It is now more important than ever to support the Libertarian Party. We are the only national party that has consistently spoken out against the Patriot Act and the abuses it spawned. The Libertarian Party is the only national party in America that stands for the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights and supports the idea that no government, and no other person on Earth has the right to violate your privacy. With your support today we shall continue to fight for your rights every single day.

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