Since its passage following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Patriot Act has played a key part – and often the leading role – in a number of successful operations to protect innocent Americans from the deadly plans of terrorists dedicated to destroying America and our way of life. While the results have been important, in passing the Patriot Act, Congress provided for only modest, incremental changes in the law. Congress simply took existing legal principles and retrofitted them to preserve the lives and liberty of the American people from the challenges posed by a global terrorist network.
The controversy largely depends on which side of the fence one sits on. The act can definitely be viewed as a formalization and facilitation of existing tools and laws to allow both law enforcement and intelligence assets capture America’s enemies. On the other hand, private citizens can perceive the powers granted to the government as overwhelming Orwellian with secret searches, unchecked power and warrantless intrusion into privacy.
Congress had already voted a 90 day extension on the Patriot Act presumably to hash out details and further explore the issues raised since it’s passage. Although some amendments were considered, they were ultimately dropped and the Patriot Act and three of its existing FISA/wiretap provisions were extended four additional years as signed by the President. The signing itself will certainly raise issues based on the fact that President Obama used the autopen to remotely authorize the bill while in Europe.