The fate of the United States of America was forever changed on September 11, 2001. As the Twin Towers fell, and hope seemed to be lost, America vowed that similar terrorist attacks would never occur again. 45 days later, the USA PATRIOT Act—Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001—passed through Congress and became law. The act, one of the most controversial in recent memory, sought to increase government surveillance of American citizens by allowing for roving wiretaps, strengthening immigration restrictions, and removing the right to due process for certain warrants and investigations. In order to combat terrorism, the U.S. government felt that these measures were warranted.
Twelve years later, it seems that the negative ramifications of the PATRIOT Act have outweighed its benefits. American citizens have seen their civil liberties be threatened, as government surveillance of everyday Americans has reached alarming levels. In only 1% of the many government searches, wiretaps, and investigations made legal through the PATRIOT Act have ties to terrorist activity been made. Further, it remains unclear whether or not the PATRIOT Act has actually been effective in reducing terrorist attacks on the United States—the massacre at Fort Hood in 2009 and the recent Boston Marathon bombings serve as a testament to this point. It has also been argued that the PATRIOT Act’s stringent financial regulations, meant to prevent terrorist money laundering, caused a mass exodus of capital out of the U.S. economy, beginning a domino effect that resulted in the Great Recession.
As pundits and legislators alike look ahead to 2015—the expiration date for the PATRIOT Act—support for the law’s extension has dwindled. With the recent NSA leak, the extent of government surveillance has been made clear to the American public; Congressmen on both sides of the political spectrum have proposed new legislation to replace the PATRIOT Act when it expires. At the forefront of this frenzy is the USA FREEDOM Act, championed by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, an original author of the PATRIOT Act. The FREEDOM Act seeks to reduce the power of the PATRIOT Act, by limiting the number of searches and seizures and making investigation reports more publicly available. Its main goal—which stems from its title—is to restore the freedom of privacy that was severely threatened with the passing of the PATRIOT Act.