I was recently asked:

How has American life been affected by the US Patriot Act? Provide one example each of the Patriot Act’s impact on the online community, the technical industry and the law enforcement community. Explain whether the examples you used have had a positive or negative impact in your opinion.”

On October 26th, 2001, Congress passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act (Worrall, 2007). The Patriot Act followed in the footsteps of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) which effectively limited habeas corpus (Samaha, 2008, Worrall, 2007). While the Patriot Act does not change habeas corpus, it does greatly expand the ability of the government to conduct what is generally referred to as a “sneak and peak,” meaning that the government is allowed to make warrantless searches of properties without leaving notice (McQuade, 2006, Schmalleger, 2009, Worrall, 2007). Furthermore, the Patriot act gave the CIA the ability to conduct information gathering on United States Citizens, an activity which had previously not been condoned; furthermore, it placed most federal investigation power in the Department of Justice and thus the attorney general (Worrall, 2007).

Because of the scope of the Patriot Act, many areas of American are affected. The first area we will explore is that of the technical industry. The largest impact within the technical industry is that the FBI and CIA do not need a warrant to monitor the electronic communication of individuals suspected to be terrorists (Harvard, 2010, McQuade, 2006). In addition, there is a provision within the Patriot Act which prevents those who must comply with requests to monitor communications from discussing the request with anyone else, including legal representation (McQuade, 2006). Obviously internet service providers are most affected and the renewal of Patriot Act provisions will continue to affect them in a negative fashion as they are not currently allowed legal consultation even if they were facing self incrimination.

The law enforcement community, on the other hand, benefits greatly from the Patriot Act as a lot of previous legal restrictions on searching electronic records have been relaxed (ACLU, 2010). One of the consequences of the digital age is that information and technology changes rapidly. When trying to combat terrorism when technology is involved using conventional methods would by like trying to drive to a city that is itself in motion; terrorists are always going to be finding and adapting new ways of concealing their activity. The Patriot Act gives a level of agility to law enforcement agencies.

Finally, the effects on the online community are not entirely known yet; however, the Patriot Act would allow for the CIA and NSA to crawl and aggregate data from U.S. based websites. While some may feel uneasy about the CIA and NSA having jurisdiction within the United States due to privacy concerns, neither the Constitution nor Bill of Rights expressly affords a right to privacy, or for that matter, anonymity (McQuade, 2006, Samaha, 2008, Worrall, 2007). Regardless, even if privacy is to be presumed, it would imply that rights to safety can also be assumed between the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, which would be in diametric opposition with expectations of privacy. Therefore, the Patriot Act seems fully reasonable with online communications where we should expect a considerably lessened expectation of privacy from government intrusion, whether that communication exists in blog, email, or some other form, than we would expect of a conversation occurring in a home between two individuals. As such, I feel that the Patriot Act has a neutral effect upon the online community.


ACLU. (2010). Surveillance under the USA/PATRIOT act. Retrieved from http://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/surveillance-under-usapatriot-act

Harvard. (2010). Effect of the USA PATRIOT act on internet privacy. Retrieved from http://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/surveillance-under-usapatriot-act

McQuade, S. C. (2006). Understanding and managing cybercrime. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Samaha, J. (2008). Criminal Law 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.

Schmalleger, F. (2009). Criminology today:an integrative introduction. Columbus, Ohio: Pearson.

Univerist of Texas. (2006). ATM scam. Retrieved from http://www.utexas.edu/police/alerts/atm_scam/

Worrall, J.L. (2007). Criminal procedure: from first contact to appeal 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.