Impact of the US Patriot Act on Information Freedom
Forty five days after the tragic September 11 terrorist attacks, the US Congress vehemently approved the Patriot Act (2001). The strategized terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, Pentagon and fields of Shanksville, immediately prompted an urgent response from the federal government. According to Wong (2006), the resultant haste to respond to terrorism, best explains why the Patriot Act was swiftly legislated without discussions, debates and or amendments. This brief discussion paper will focus on discussing how subjective sections of the US Patriot Act (2001) impacts on information freedom.
US Patriotic Act and Information Freedom
After approval, the Patriotic Act made it legal for the federal government to curtail the freedom of information universally guaranteed to its citizens. For instance, and perhaps the clause that most protected the federal government from the civilian’s right to information, was the provision that bureaucrats could resist and defy availing public-records even when such were requested by the public. According to Van Bergen (2003), federal agencies were no longer open to democratic accountability. Yet in exchange, the Patriotic Act gave the federal government allowance to intercept, monitor, record, and disclose any electronic communication by any American citizen. This brought down the walls of private information for all individuals, while creating a barrier to public information.
The federal government gained the mandate to secretly detain anybody, without requisite criminal charges, if they were terrorism suspects. People would thus be detained for national security, without being charged for anything and most importantly, without any legal representation even if they so requested. This provision became even more critical, when the Patriotic Act empowered the FBI to investigate any citizen for suspected criminal activity, even if the agents could not prove probable cause for such a process. Criminal investigation and detention was allowed for what the act called intelligence purposes.
The Patriotic Act allowed federal agencies to deliberately remove any sensitive information on their government websites, while at the same time, force any bookseller and or librarian to surrender their sales records, stock and online communication, if such provided any security concern. Finally, librarians and booksellers are bound to exercise complete secrecy if the government subpoenaed any information, or else they are prosecuted.
While the Patriot Act (2001) has been severely criticized for curtailing civil liberties, legal rights and fundamental human rights for US citizens, its biggest victim was freedom of information. The US Congress bypassed due legislation protocols to enact a national defence strategy against terrorism, but inversely empowered federal law enforcement agencies to disregard and contravene the freedom of information among citizens.