Domestic Spying and the US Patriot Act


Jason Hayden, Writer

Since the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in 2001, the United States has become a heavily secured nation. For example, the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001” (USA PATRIOT, referred to as the Patriot Act) was signed into law by President Bush on October 26th, one month after the attacks. Furthermore, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed one month later to help protect all transportation systems in America, including air travel. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security was formed a year later also to defend America from terrorists, foreign and domestic. As a result, this made Americans felt more secure.

In June of 2013, former CIA employee Edward Snowden dropped a metaphorical “bomb,” however, when he revealed that Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorized the NSA to track cell phone calls, emails, and Internet traffic of all Americans, without their knowledge and without a warrant. In addition, Snowden wanted the public to know they were being watched. The surveillance was being used for bulk metadata collection, which included recording the date, duration, and to and from phone numbers of millions of phone calls. A secret room was created at AT&T in San Francisco to track phone and Internet traffic.

This created a tremendous amount of controversy and debate in the country. President Bush had used his executive authority to allow the NSA to sweep phone and Internet records in order to prevent further plots of terrorism against the U.S.  But the effect of Snowden’s leaking of this secret activity was that Americans felt spied upon. The Bush administration felt that the success of metadata analysis depended on “bulk collection” so it could be stored and analyzed.  But those who were against this surveillance felt that it wasn’t fair to target Americans who weren’t suspected of terrorist activity or any wrongdoing.

Under normal circumstances, the government tracking your communications is an invasion of privacy, but these weren’t normal circumstances.  Almost 3,000 unarmed, innocent civilians were killed on 9/11.  Another 6,200 were wounded.

If you don’t have anything to hide, then why not let the government monitor your communications so they can catch the “bad guys”?  It’s not like they were monitoring the actual content of the phone calls. I don’t see this as being any different than having all people go through the airport security scanners. The only difference is that the people at the airport know they’re being checked. But if you told the American public they were being checked for terrorist activity, the terrorists would be tipped off and would find a way to communicate that couldn’t be detected. Since ISIS is using the Internet to recruit followers, I’m all for having my communications monitored for the sake of national security.  Anything to support counterterrorism efforts.

However, it does not appear that spying on Americans worked anyway. It has turned out that not one terrorist plot was prevented by NSA’s bulk data collection. Instead, the general outrage and he controversy associated with the program led to reform. The Section 215 provision allowing NSA to track American communications was allowed to expire on June 1, 2015. The USA Freedom Act was passed on June 2, 2015. It kept parts of the Patriot Act alive but took away the part that allowed Americans to be spied upon without a warrant.