But behind the official rhetoric, the truth remains that the Bush Administration acted opportunistically in the wake of September 11, 2001, to impose restrictions and take away civil liberties of American citizens. At the time of its proposal, the public opinion was not unfavorable to the legislation, as the general public was gripped in an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. But seen retrospectively and when studied in detail, the PATRIOT Act translates into one grand reactionary scheme to take away hard-won civilian rights. Under the guise of improving national security, the USA PATRIOT Act has added new powers to the executive branch of government, while decreasing judicial oversight. Of all the measured incorporated by it, the ones pertaining to privacy and due process of law are the most controversial. For example,
“The Act severely curtails the right to privacy at several turns, including broadening the grounds for increased surveillance and wiretap authority, sneak-and-peek searches, tracking Internet usage, and accessing private records. As a result of the USA PATRIOT Act, more than 1,200 immigrants in the United States were taken into custody and detained for an extended period without being charged with committing a terrorist act.” (Abdolian & Takooshian, 2003)
What is worse, the Obama Administration has not only continued with surveillance programs initiated by George Bush, but has tried to make it immune from legal challenges. For example,
“The Obama Administration goes two steps further than Bush did, and claims that the US PATRIOT Act also renders the U.S. immune from suit under the two remaining key federal surveillance laws: the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. Essentially, the Obama Administration has claimed that the government cannot be held accountable for illegal surveillance under any federal statutes.” (Jones, 2009)
One of the strongest arguments for retracting the PATRIOT Act is that it has proven ineffective in reducing terror threat both within and without the United States. In the nine years since its enactment, the country and the world are no closer to preventing terrorist acts as they were previously. The terror strikes in London, Madrid and Bali will serve as testaments to this observation. The worsening situation in Iraq and Afghanistan will further validate this argument. An empirical study of the last nine years shows that the provisions for electronic monitoring of citizens and unnecessary intrusion into their private lines have done very little to reduce the threat of terror. If anything, some of the draconian provisions under the PATRIOT Act have only increased disgruntlement among citizens by intruding on their privacy. Further, it has alienated innocent foreign tourists. (Jones, 2009)
In order for the Obama Administration to not repeat mistakes made before, a study of the United States history is essential. During the Second World War, a similar situation arose when Japan was at war with the United States. At that time, many Japanese Americans were rounded up and detained in make-shift jails, on grounds that they ‘could’ be Japanese spies, and that their loyalties are questionable. This authoritarian measure met with such widespread condemnation that even the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill vehemently and passionately expressed his displeasure. He stated that detaining civilians without legitimate arrest warrants was a grave breach of basic human rights. Applying the analogy to the present situation, the harassment felt by Muslim Americans (especially those from the Middle East) in the guise of ‘random’ interviews, frisks, surveillance and outright detainment without warrant also comprises a breach of basic human rights.
“From a constitutional perspective, the certification and mandatory detention of suspected immigrants in the USA PATRIOT Act should give pause. In particular, there is good reason to believe that the provisions do not comport with the procedural due process required by the Fifth Amendment. Without an opportunity to hear the charges against him and to contest them in a true adversarial proceeding, a wholly innocent person may well find himself deprived of liberty on unfounded allegations of terrorism. Accusations of terrorism do not justify procedural injustice. Furthermore, widespread reports of individuals wrongfully detained by the Justice Department since September 11 suggest the frequency of mistaken suspicion and government error in the terrorism probe. Truncated procedures only increase the risk of such deprivations.” (Abdolian & Takooshian, 2003)