Just weeks after the Twin Towers came crashing down in 2001, the Patriot Act was approved. In its 10 years, the act has often pitted law enforcement against civil libertarians. For one, said David Goldberg, a political science professor at Illinois’ College of DuPage, the act serves as a tool for prosecutors, law enforcement and intelligence agents, giving broader powers with the goal of preventing future attacks.

Just weeks after the Twin Towers came crashing down in 2001, the Patriot Act was approved. In its 10 years, the act has often pitted law enforcement against civil libertarians. For one, said David Goldberg, a political science professor at Illinois’ College of DuPage, the act serves as a tool for prosecutors, law enforcement and intelligence agents, giving broader powers with the goal of preventing future attacks.

But the act has also gathered critics, prompting scrutiny from those who feel it strips rights guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable seizures and searches. Today many of  the act’s original provisions are still in existence. Here are a few:

Roving “John Doe” wiretaps This grants surveillance, with court approval, of a person versus a medium. Goldberg said it allows more than one phone or computer used by a person of interest to be tapped under one warrant. In the past, he said, if the government wanted to listen to calls, a separate warrant was needed for each cell phone or landline used. Instead of getting a new warrant every time a drug dealer switches to a new cell phone, for instance, Goldberg said, law enforcement can tap all communication under a single warrant.

Section 215 This section lets law enforcement obtain a person’s personal and financial resources without a warrant after approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This includes bank accounts, business and library records, medical records and “any paper trail that you’ve generated as a consumer, taxpayer or a citizen,” Goldberg said. It’s not required that a person commit a crime for this information to be obtained, Goldberg said, and “it changes the equation on the presumption of innocence.” Yet he said investigators would likely argue this is necessary to investigate persons of interest who might be connected to a larger terrorist group. Someone might raise money for al-Qaida, for instance, without being a member of the group. Yet Goldberg said many civil libertarians would argue this part violates the intent of the Fourth Amendment.

“Lone wolf” provision Goldberg said this provision added in 2004 allows for surveillance “without the traditional burden of proof” for persons of interest who don’t associate with an organized group to plot crime, someone such as “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski. Yet Goldberg said critics would argue this allows law enforcement to “pick on people” they might have a gripe against, such as conspiracy theorists.

“Sneak & peek” warrants In the past, Goldberg said, those on the receiving end of a search warrant were present during a search, often with an attorney. However, this allows officials to search a residence, email and contacts without immediately informing a person of the search. Goldberg said searches can be done over a period of time to learn who the person of interest is networking with if they’re planning a crime or attack. He said the law enforcement perspective is “catching bigger fish by seeing who’s involved,” but it can be argued that warrants can be obtained for minor crimes, not only terror cases.

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So has it been successful?

Has the Patriot Act been successful in thwarting terrorism? It’s a hard question, explained College of DuPage political science professor David Goldberg. State law officials might say it’s helped shut down drug trafficking rings and bust pedophiles, but in terms of preventing another 9/11, officials must be tight-lipped.

Goldberg said legislators often can’t talk about how a provision in the act let them stop a group from blowing up a bank because it would alert those involved with plotting the attack. He thinks those in the Bush administration would say it’s no coincidence the country has been free of an attack on the scale of Sept. 11, but he feels critics would argue that attacks have stepped up in other regions of the globe.

Moving forward, the act expires and can be renewed every five years, and he feels provisions the government can’t show a legal need for will fade away over time.
In the future, he feels options include the following:

• Legislators can reauthorize pieces of the act, as was done in late May by President Obama.

• Lawmakers can reauthorize the whole act, as was done in 2006.

• Elected officials can allow for more oversight of the act.

However, Goldberg’s not sure the act will disappear. When law enforcement gets tools, he said, there’s a lot of reluctance to give them up.

“I think it would take a unique set of circumstances to revoke some of these things,” Goldberg said.