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Patriot Act



March 20 events




The USA PATRIOT Act, signed into law in October of 2001, was passed by congress with such speed (urged on by Attorney General John Ashcroft) that some members did not even have a chance to read the 342 page bill. Some later said that parts of it might be unconstitutional, but with up-coming elections, no one wanted to appear unpatriotic. The few changes that addressed civil liberty issues were taken out in closed meetings before the vote. This Act radically threatens the civil liberties we all have come to take for granted under the Bill of Rights - these are the very freedoms we have been told inspire such violent jealousy in terrorists. Among other things, this law:

Extends the power of the government to conduct surveillance of U.S. citizens & reduces judicial review of such surveillance

Permits non-citizens to be jailed indefinitely and with little judicial review, based on mere suspicion

Allows the FBI to require libraries and bookstores to hand over lists of books borrowed or bought by a person included in a terrorist investigation (The warrant, issued by the secret Foreign Surveillance Court requires a lower standard than the 4th Amendments "probable cause")

Imposes a gag rule that prohibits a librarian or bookseller from informing anyone that the search has taken place.

Allows government agents to listen in on lawyer-client conversations in federal prisons

Extends the scope of wiretaps on phones & computers.

Permits government agents to search a suspects home without notifying them of the search (This is not limited to terrorism, but all criminal cases)

The USA PATRIOT Act can apply to U.S. citizens, as well as non-citizens.

This act was promoted as a tool to fight foreign terrorists, but many of its provisions are not limited to the crime of terrorism, but apply to all criminal cases. Terrorism as it is defined in the act could be interpreted to encompass more than you might think.

A person "commits the crime of domestic terrorism if within the U.S. activity is engaged in that involves acts dangerous to human life that violate the laws of the United States or any state and appear to be intended to:

1.) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; 2.) influence the policy of government by intimidation or coercion; or 3.) affect the conduct of government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping"

The use of the words, "appear to" make this alarmingly subjective, and the first two provisions are so loosely worded that some people engaged in political protest could be swept into the definition.

Other Attacks on Liberty

Although the USAPatriot act is the best known of the laws passed in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, there are other new laws and executive orders dealing with air travel, immigration, police practices and emergency powers. These allow innocent people to be denied services, deported and detained in secret. Those who are arrested or singled out by mistake under these policies have little opportunity to correct the error, and the government can prevent them from traveling and hold them incommunicado for interrogation. People have been treated like terrorists simply for supporting causes that are unpopular with people with authority.


A leaked 86 page draft of "The Domestic Security Enhancement act" would, among other provisions, restrict public access to information about environmental and heath risks, allow secret arrests, and shelter federal agents engaged in illegal surveillance. It even allows the government to strip US citizens of their citizenship. This act is not law, yet, but considering the speed with which PATRIOT I was launched, it bears watching.

Download of the full flyer with graphics as a pdf.

Take time to learn more

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Amnesty International

American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Human Rights Watch

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights

Move On

National Priorities Project

A Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Project Vote Smart

Tom Paine

True Majority

Democracies die behind closed doors.