USA Patriot Act

What is the 'USA Patriot Act'

The USA Patriot Act is a law passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States giving law enforcement agencies increased, broad powers to bring terrorists to justice. The USA Patriot Act is an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.


The USA Patriot Act deters and punishes terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad through enhanced law enforcement and strengthened money laundering prevention. Because of the Act, investigative tools designed for organized crime and drug trafficking prevention are also used for terrorist attack prevention. For example, federal agents receive court orders to obtain business records from hardware stores or chemical plants to determine who may be buying materials to make bombs, or bank records to determine who is sending money to terrorists. Police officers, FBI agents, federal prosecutors and intelligence officials protect communities by sharing information and uncovering terrorist plots before completion. Increased penalties for committing and supporting terrorist crimes exist because of the Act.

Enhanced Law Enforcement Due to USA Patriot Act

Law enforcement uses surveillance while gathering information on terrorism-related crimes such as using chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction, killing Americans abroad and financing terrorism. Federal agents use roving wiretaps while tracking international terrorists trained to avoid surveillance by rapidly changing locations and communication devices. A reasonable delay in notifying terrorist suspects of a search warrant gives law enforcement time to identify the criminal’s associates, eliminate immediate community threats and coordinate the arrests of individuals without tipping them off first.

Advantages of the USA Patriot Act

Faster inquiries are made about suspicious activities, strengthening terrorism prevention. Surveillance is easier because companies have a clear definition of who investigates terrorist activities. Increased wiretapping lets investigators listen to conversations potentially threatening to national security. Because law enforcement has more unity through multiple communication channels, investigating officers act quickly before a suspected attack is completed.

Disadvantages of the USA Patriot Act

There is debate over whether the Act is truly effective or whether the terrorist attacks were a one-time event. The government investigates anyone it sees fit, calling into question citizens’ rights to privacy. Questions of misusing government funds arise when limited resources are used in tracking American citizens, especially those moving overseas. It is unclear what the U.S. government plans to do with information discovered through tracking public records, raising concerns about the government’s autonomy and power. Suspected terrorists were imprisoned on Guantanamo Bay without always explaining why or allowing legal representation, violating their right to due process; some prisoners were proven to not even have any ties to terrorism.