What Is the Patriot Act?


Quick Answer

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, colloquially called the "USA PATRIOT" Act, gave the federal government powers to intercept communications, act quickly on terrorist threats and protect American borders. The law was signed Oct. 26, 2001, according to the U.S. Government Printing Office. The legislation served as the congressional response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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Full Answer

The Center for Immigration Studies explains the law expedited certain provisions such as the entry and exit data system to screen visas for possible terrorists. The USA PATRIOT Act created a way for banks to identify and verify account holders to correlate names to any terror watch lists. The provision immediately tripled border patrol security along the border with Canada and allowed the State Department to access the FBI's most wanted files to cross-check immigration requests.

The Department of Justice indicates the USA PATRIOT Act authorizes "roving wiretaps" for terror suspects, which means federal agents can monitor a person rather than a particular phone or device. Delayed-notification warrants are issued for terror suspects, and warrants can be obtained in any federal district. The act also updated the means with which investigators can pursue terror suspects who use modern technology.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation asserts that the law has been abused by agencies that invoke Section 215, the part of the act that gives secret courts the authority to monitor people. EFF states that the government abused this power to monitor citizens illegally by compiling email and cellphone records.

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