Abstract

The Patriot Act came into force in October 26th 2001 after it was passed in a rush by the Congress following serious terrorist attacks. This paper highlights the effects that have been felt in the Department of Homeland Security since the law was passed as well as recommendations on how the law can be improved. On a positive note, the Act has strengthened security apparatus by increasing the capacity of law enforcing agencies to intercept and stop terror activities. To make this possible, the activities of the agencies under the DHS were expanded allowing them to access confidential information. The expansion of the department’s activities came with increased budgetary allocations. On the negative side however, the Patriot Act has tainted the image of the DHS because the department has turned out to misuse its power by making unnecessary intrusions into people’s privacy. The DHS has been affected by this turn of events because too much power has put it at loggerheads with members of the public and the Congress. This situation can be improved if the department limits its investigations to major crimes that make it necessary to look into confidential information. Checks and balances are also necessary to ensure that the department is held accountable for its activities. However, this should be done carefully to ensure that there is no interference with the activities of the DHS.

 

Introduction

In October 2001, the Patriot Act after receiving overwhelming support from the congress. It officially became a law in October 26 2001. The passage of the legislation was fueled by the country’s concerns following terror attacks. The Congress with the hope that it would help in strengthening security controls quickly passed the legislation. Although the process to pass the legislation took only a few days, it received overwhelming support from the Congress. However, sections of the Americans oppose the law criticizing it for being authoritarian. In fact, sections of the public have challenged the law in court where rulings have indicated that some provisions create loopholes for intrusion in people’s privacy. The patriot act has been chosen as a topic of study in this paper because act has emerged to be an issue of national interest because the US has been at the forefront in the fight against terrorism. While most terrorism activities have been planned outside the US borders, terrorists have networks all over. Therefore, as much as many have questioned the validity of the patriot act, it has proven to be a necessary piece of legislation, especially during these times of heightened terror threats globally. This paper carefully analyses the effects that have been faced within the DHS since the Patriot Act became a law. As such, the paper explores both the negative and the positive effects of the law to the DHS.  In addition, the paper draws recommendations on what can be adopted to reduce the negative effects of the law.

The Effects of Patriot Act on the Department of Homeland Security

The passing of the Patriot Act by Congress was motivated by the intention to strengthen security apparatus in the US by putting in place measures that would reduce if not eliminate the threat that terrorists pose to the country. The law has been of great benefit to the American citizenry because it has gone a long way to strengthen the Department of Homeland Security. Since its passage, the law empowers the DHS to stop terrorism and punish any terrorist activities within the US and beyond. The DHS has been able to provide the Americans with the much-needed security because the Patriot Act modifies most of the laws that protected people’s privacy hindering the fight against terrorism in the process. Although sections of the public have been victims of unnecessary security searches, the DHS managed to stop many terrorists from actualizing their plans.

The Patriot Act has enabled the DHS to prevent many terrorism attacks by detecting people’s ulterior motives early in advance. This success largely stems from the fact that the law encourages teamwork within the DHS. For instance, under the law different law enforcement agencies working for the government have been encouraged to work together by sharing information on any activity that is a threat to the country’s security. People seeking to become American citizens are some of the groups that the different law enforcement agencies have focused on. These agencies share information about the reasons that drive such people to seek American citizenship. With various groups working on collecting information about people, it becomes easy for the DHS to trace people who are likely to harm the country through terrorism acts.

The USA Patriot Act led to the expansion of the DHS with the intension of increasing the department’s ability to provide domestic security and to fight against terrorism. To that respect, the amount of funding allocated to the DHS by the government was increased. For instance, a special fund to counter terrorist activities was allocated to the Terrorist Screening Center. Different law enforcement bodies were directed to be ready to provide assistance in the fight against terrorism whenever need arises. The military in particular can provide assistance in situations where mass destruction weapons are involved. The act also led to the expansion of the National Electronic Crime Task Force. The increased expansion and funding of different law enforcing bodies were done so that the DHS capacity to combat terrorism could be increased. While the expansions have been very expensive, terror activities have decreased significantly.

A section of the Americans who oppose the Patriot Act are of the opinion that the changes that have been made on the DHS have not improved the department to be better in fighting against terrorism. The Congress rushed to pass the law immediately after terrorism attacks. The law was introduced on September 23, 2001 and signed on the 26th of the same month. Most of the legislators did not find time to go through the final version and therefore voted for a bill that they did not understand clearly. Consequently, the Patriot Act has largely been viewed as an irrational response to the terrorist attacks that had occurred a few days before the law was passed. Although citizens were optimistic that their security would be guaranteed, the law has empowered the DHS to the extent that it infringes into people’s civil liberties.

The FBI is one of the law enforcement agencies whose powers increased considerably after the Patriot Act came into force. Whereas the idea was to empower investigative bodies in the fight against terrorism, the power has turned out to be uncontrollable. Section 215 of the Act allows investigative bodies to obtain confidential information from members of the public as long investigators feel such information is needed to unearth terrorists. In fact, in some cases such confidential information is gathered without the concerned people being informed. This trend has picked up in the DHS with various security agencies being used to spy on Americans. The situation was worse during the regime of President Bush because many US citizens were spied by security agencies without necessarily sticking to the provisions of the Patriot Act. Therefore, most of the law enforcing agencies under the DHS were misusing their powers by intruding into people’s privacy.

The Patriot Act has put the DHS at loggerheads with the members of the public. This is an unfortunate development because the DHS is charged with the responsibility of providing the American citizenry with security rather than engaging in a tag war with the same people it is expected to protect. Many members of the public have risen to challenge the provisions of the law that they view as draconian. Members of the public have particularly challenged section 215 of the act in courts of law because it allows for the violation of their privacy. The Muslim community in the US has consistently leveled accusations that the Patriot Act for targeting it alongside other foreigners in the US. While this could be true, the accusations have tainted the image of the DHS. Many foreigners who have been victims of unnecessary searches of various security bodies lack confidence in the entire Department of Homeland Security.

The persistent tag of war between the DHS and the public that has been created and fueled by the Patriot Act has put the DHS under scrutiny. Various government bodies and states believe that there is need to watch the DHS closely as a way of ensuring that the department does not over step its boundaries. The Congress for instance has requested to be given more power so that it can provide oversight to the DHS as far as the Patriot Act is concerned. States have assured the Federal government that they will continue to support efforts to fight against terrorism as long as citizens’ civil rights are protected. Various organizations have joined those who oppose the law, including the American Civil Liberties. This shows that local resistance against the Patriot Act has increased over the years with the image of the DHS being at stake because it is the body in charge of implementing the law as spelt out by the Act.

The Congress rushed to pass the USA Patriot Act in 2001 with aim of reorganizing the DHS to make it more efficient and effective in dealing with terror activities. The Congress also intended to increase congressional and White House control in security matters as well as encourage power sharing amongst the various agencies in the DHS. However, rather than achieving efficiency and effectiveness as far as homeland defense is concerned, more disorganization has been created in the department. Efforts to establish connections and encourage power sharing among the agencies have failed. This has led to displacement of the functions of various security agencies. This situation has been created by involving different law enforcement agencies without clear boundaries on the role of each agency.

Recommendations

Continued resistance against the Patriot Act has affected the operations of the Department of Homeland Security because more and more people are rising to oppose the department’s actions in the fight against terrorism. This calls for amendments that would make the Patriot Act acceptable to the members of the public so that they can support the DHS in the fight against terrorism. It should be noted that although the provision of security is mainly the responsibility of the government, the involvement of the public is necessary. The DHS should carry out its activities in a way that public feels that security officers are not over stepping their boundary. Such a move will encourage members of the public to corporate in providing information whenever investigators working for the DHS call upon them.

The DHS should realize that although national security is of utmost importance, there should be a balance between the rights that individuals are entitled to and national security. Over the years, concerns have been raised over the infringement on privacy that has come with the Patriot Act. Many citizens have been subjected to searches that have not yielded substantial evidence of their involvement in terrorist activities. While these searches are necessary to ensure that the DHS stops terrorism, investigative bodies should limit them as much as possible. In conducting the searches, security agencies should keep in mind suspects are innocent until proven otherwise. Security bodies have also conducted searches in a way that many people have been left to believe foreigners and the Muslim have been the main targets. This trend has made the public to oppose DHS activities that have been carried out in the name of the Patriot Act. In future, the DHS should be impartial in discharging its duties so that specific sections of the public do not feel harassed by security apparatus.

There is need for increased control of the affairs of the DHS by the Congress. Whereas security apparatus work best when there is no external interference, oversight is required to ensure that there are no cases of abuse of power. Congressional control should not just be limited to the department’s budgetary allocation but should also include controlling the department’s missions and personnel when need arises. Such arrangements would ensure that the president and the secretary to the department do not control the entire operations of the department. Although such a proposal was presented to Bush while he was president, he turned down the proposal on grounds that the Congress should not control the office of the president. However, it should be noted that the DHS has a sensitive responsibility of protecting the country’s citizenry. Therefore, the citizenry should have a say in the running of the department. The Congress, which represents the people, is better placed to play the role of controlling the direction of the DHS.

The courts and the public should also conduct oversight roles and accountability checks. In the past decisions by courts of law have been influenced by major security agencies such as the FBI. Instead of making rulings that protect the people, courts have always approved the procedures used by top security agencies in the fight against terrorism. To ensure that the citizens are protected courts should step in to help in interpreting the Patriot Act and ensure that law-enforcing agencies do not overreach. The department should also report to the public on a regular basis to ensure that the people are updated on investigation techniques being used by investigative bodies such as the FBI. By doing so, the public will be able to speak out when security bodies over step their boundaries.

Intelligent standards should be set to govern investigative operations in the Department of Homeland Security. Since the passage of Patriot Act, members have been targeted for various criminal activities that may be associated with terrorism. While the act has given security apparatus a go ahead to investigate members of the public, the procedures that should be used have not been clearly spelt out. In fact, there have been reports that investigation officers have gone beyond the provisions of the Patriot Act. It is therefore necessary to set standards on the approach that should be adopted throughout the department. The department should also focus on serious crimes. This will go a long way to reduce cases where investigative officers take too much time on minor crimes that do not qualify to be categorized as terrorist activities. When standards are set on the procedures to be used by investigators and the nature of crimes to be targeted, incidences of investigators intruding into people’s privacy unnecessarily will reduce.

Conclusion

The USA Patriot Act came into effect on September 26th 2001 following terror attacks in which many Americans lost their lives. The Act was passed by Congress with aim of giving the Department of Homeland Security the freedom to access any personal information it needs in investigating terror activities. While the law has gone a long way to enable the department to stop many terror activities, it has also come with many negative effect of tainting the image of the DHS. Many parties, including members of the public and the Congress, currently view the DHS as a body that is misusing its power by making unnecessary intrusions into people’s privacy in the name of investigating terror activities. As a result, the image of the Department of Homeland Security has deteriorated as the department has continued to be at loggerheads with the Congress as well as members of the public. Therefore, measures have to be put in place to make the department more accountable as much as it does a good job in stopping terrorism. Above all, the citizens must appreciate the real dangers posed by violent extremism globally and have a civil duty to support the governments endeavors in combating terror.

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