Implications of US Patriot act on human rights: Analysis

Scientific Essay 2007 16 Pages

Law - Comparative Legal Systems, Comparative Law



“The USA Patriot Act was destined to foster abuses, as it weakened the system of checks and balances on law enforcement while setting aside due process safeguards under the law,"

- Jumana Musa, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA

Against the backdrop of the horrendous happenings of 11th September,2001 the American Congress, cloaked in fear capitulated to the Bush administration’s demand for a new anti-terror law by overlooking the tumultuous objections from the civil liberties organization from both ends of the political spectrum. The Congress approved the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, which is better known by its acronym the U.S.A PATRIOT ACT with an overwhelming majority of 356 votes to 66 in the House and 98 votes to one in the U.S Senate[1]. In the process the Congress brushed aside a more promising anti-terrorism bill that the House Judiciary Committee had unanimously approved, that would have addressed a number of civil liberties concerns. The complex and far reaching legislation was drafted hastily and without being subjected to much debates and discussion or conferences or committee reports that any other significant act would undergo was signed and made a law by the president of the United States, George .W. Bush on 26th October 2001.

Though many provisions in the act are absorbed from older legislations quite a few radical measures and paradigm shifts have been brought about in the new legislation[2] that sacrifices the political freedom and liberty and compromise on certain core aspects of human rights and democratic values of the large numbers of the immigrants in the country as well as the natural citizens by awarding new powers to the executive branch.

Chillingly, these new powers in the hands of the executive has serious implications when it comes to the executive’s ability to put in place new penalties and new restrictions and more importantly its power that authorized the erstwhile Immigration and Naturalization Service ( a part of the U.S Department of Justice whose functions are now carried out by the newly formed U.S Citizenship and Immigration services) to detain immigrants suspected to be involved in terror activities for indefinite period of time

The act also enhanced the intelligence gathering and surveillance capacity of Government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and several others. The act also provides for sharing of the intelligence gatherings between two or more agencies. But the types of information that could be shared include information revealed to a court (previously prohibited by law), telephone and internet intercepts obtained without court order and without restrictions on the subsequent use of the intercepted information.[3] In addition to this the act gives the government the access to private medical records, tax records, information about the books individuals borrow without probable cause, and the power to break into private home and conduct secret searches without the information of the concerned individuals.[4] The act at this juncture clearly departs from the constitutional right as well as a primary human right to privacy and to make matters even worse such actions of the governmental agencies were outside the scope of judicial review.

The above mentioned is just one of the many potential and realistic threats posed by the draconian law. Another alarming consequence of the power awarded to the Government in relation to the detention on grounds of suspicion is the governmental ‘prerogative’ to treat the detainees in any manner the agencies like. Torture is a policy that comes intrinsically with the Act. The shocking scenes of torture in Abu Gharib may not have been forgotten. Abu Gharib and Guntanamo Bay and many others of similar type are the context for understanding the U.S.A PATRIOT Act[5]. There should be little or no illusions that use of the PATRIOT Act will be restricted to dangerous and criminal people. It will be used like any tool in the hands of the powerful to cut off political disputes and carry out personal vendettas[6] because the act has sanctioned law enforcement and intelligence collaboration thus giving space for apprehensions to the creation about a “secret police”. A recent example of misuse of the act by officials in power for political gains is the De Lay issue in which a former Republican leader in the House of Representatives Tom De Lay was embroiled in an effort to pick up more congressional seats in Texas by forcing a redistricting vote. He was able to trace the Democrats who fled the state to prevent the quorum by seeking the help of the Bush administration’s newly formed Department of Homeland Security[7]. The clauses make it easy not only to catch people in a sinister pseudo-legal net, but to hide them away from the legal remedies and other remedies that could check what forms of torture the government is using against them. The research will seek to find extend of compromises, the act makes in the field of human rights.


It would be incorrect to maintain that legislations of similar kinds have been enacted before in the history of USA. Throughout its history, whenever the United States has fought a war, it has taken measures that compromise civil rights. The 1798 Alien Sedition Act, the 1917 espionage act and Palmer raids, Japanese internment camps and the domestic counter intelligence programs (COINTELPRO) of the 1960s are examples of these measures. While each law or program had some political utility at the time and were enacted, they each have become embarrassing incidents in United States history.

1.1 Alien and sedition laws.

In 1798 after USA signed a treaty with Britain, France began attacking American ships at the sea. USA sent a special peace delegation to France to resolve the stalemate but France tries to extract tribute from the delegates. The whole even came to be known as the XYZ affair after the US President refused to name the officials involved in the incident. The country was swept by war fever and Xenophobia became so great that many French immigrants who had sought refuge here from the guillotines of the French Revolution had to leave the U.S., often with nowhere to go. With a vengeful mood the country enacted the Alien and Sedition laws were passed. The Alien Act allowed the President to arrest, imprison, and deport "dangerous" immigrants on mere suspicion of "treasonable or secret machinations against the government."[8] If a deported alien returned, the President could imprison him for as long as he thought "the public safety may require." Similarly The Sedition Act made it unlawful for any person to write, print, publish, or speak anything "false, scandalous and malicious" about the government, either Congress or the Executive, if it was done with the intent to defame or to bring the government "into contempt or disrepute," or to excite the hatred of the people against the United States. These laws were not meant to protect the country from the aliens but to tailor it to suit the political agendas of that time which was the usage of the act by Federalists to keep out of Congress qualified Democratic candidates who had only recently become U.S. citizens[9]. The Sedition Act was used to arrest, prosecute, and jail Democratic newspaper editors who dared to oppose the Administration.[10]


[1] Final vote results of USA PATRIOT act, http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2001/roll398.xml (last visited on 20December 2007)

[2] ACLU, The need for reform, http://action.aclu.org/reformthepatriotact/primer.html (last visited on 20th December 2007)

[3] supra note 2

[4] For text and comments on PATRIOT ACT

http://personalinfomediary.com/USAPATRIOTACT_Text.htm (last visited on December 13th 2007)

[5] Shannon Philip,’ Reports of USA PATRIOT act alleges Civil rights violation’, New York Times article published on Monday, July 21, 2003 http://www.commondreams.org/cgi-bin/print.cgi?file=/headlines03/0721-01.htm

[6] Gore Albert jr., ‘The assault on Reason’, pg 40, Bloomsbury Publications, 2007.

[7] ibid

[8] Alien and Sedition acts http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=456 (last visited 13 December 2007)

[9] ibid (Such as Swiss immigrant, Albert Gallatin, who later became Secretary of the Treasury under President Thomas Jefferson)

[10] supra 6pg 142


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Title: Implications of US Patriot act on human rights: Analysis