It’s there, protecting you, helping law enforcement investigate drug dealers, murderers and terrorists. It doesn’t inconvenience you – unless you’re evil.

Or, it’s there, lurking in the background. You don’t know when the government is snooping through your bank accounts and your library records. You will likely never know.

So go the arguments for and against the USA Patriot Act, the first of several laws passed under the banner of fighting terrorism after 9/11.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy advocates cried foul when the act passed with only one dissenting vote in the Senate. They vowed court challenges and said American civil liberties were no longer safe. . .

If a report is filed as a result of something you have done, you likely won’t find out about it. As with the national security letters, the law prohibits the institution from informing you.

“The presumption should be that people can talk about searches once they have been performed,” said Peter Swire, a professor in the Moritz College of Law at OSU, former Clinton administration official and a critic of the Patriot Act. “With the gag rule, we lose crucial accountability against government overuse.”

Brooks argues that the Patriot Act doesn’t impact most people’s lives. That includes those who are investigated but never charged, he said.

“In many instances,” he said, “we’re able to conduct investigations quickly or quietly without individuals knowing we’re there.”

That is exactly the problem, critics say.

Jennifer Nimer, legal director for the Ohio Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the act had a profound impact on Middle Easterners and Muslims. They are skeptical of law enforcement and afraid to come forward when they know something important for fear of being implicated, she said.

“With so much secrecy and not knowing what people’s rights are, people are just very afraid,” Nimer said.


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