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article imagePatriot Act powers used beyond terrorism mandate

By Ken Hanly     Oct 30, 2014 in Crime
Washington - The so-called "sneak and peek" powers of the Patriot Act allow investigators to do searches without informing the target of the searches.When these controversial powers were granted assurances were given that they would be used only to counter terrorism.
Those supporting the extended powers argued that investigators needed to probe the lives and finances of suspected terrorists without the knowledge of the suspects. Critics pointed out that the federal government already had these powers to use for national security investigations. The new provisions in the Patriot Act , critics argued, were far too broad and would be used for cases that had nothing to do with national security. The Patriot Act was passed right after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and few were interested in what civil libertarian critics might say about the act. The huge Patriot Act was passed overwhelmingly even though only a few Congress members actually read it. In May of 2011 President Obama signed the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011 extending three key parts of the act for four years. The original act is the USA PATRIOT standing for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has numerous analyses of the Patriot Act including the sneak-and-peak powers which are now used for many different federal law enforcement purposes.The increase in the use of the powers is reflected in numbers. From September 2001 to April of 2003 the powers were used only 47 times. In 2010 alone 3,970 requests to use the powers were made. Within three years the number was 11,129. Instead of being used as a tool to be used in exceptional circumstances against terror suspects, the powers are being used regularly in a variety of different types of cases such as drug investigations.
Of the 3,970 cases mentioned earlier, a remarkable 3,034 were for narcotics investigations. Only 37 were for terrorism cases. The patten remains the same in later reports. Out of the 11,129 requests in 2013 only 51 were for terrorism. For narcotics on the other hand there were 9,401 requests. The use of these powers beyond their original mandate shows that legislators should be careful to consider the implications of what they are passing. Any new powers given to legal investigators will be used as widely as possible and it is crucial to carefully define the scope of new powers before they are passed into law.
An instructive example of the use and abuse of these new powers together with the new Stingray technology by the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington D.C. is given in this article.
More about Patriot act, War on drugs, war on terrorism
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