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A public outcry ensued, with some loudly opposing the NSA’s surveillance programs and others forcefully defending them.
The New York Times condemned the NSA surveillance in an editorial and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the NSA, challenging the constitutionality of the NSA telephone call metadata collection program.
In 2000, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued approximately 8,000 NSLs. IT firms like Google, Twitter, and Yahoo have also been issued NSLs, though secrecy rules bar their lawyers from discussing the nature of these NSLs openly. House of Representatives introduced separate pieces of legislation seeking to scale back the Act’s original scope. Yet despite this steady drumbeat of concern around the Act’s expansion of government power, both Republican and Democratic administrations renewed provisions of the Act that had been set to expire.
In the twelve years since the Act’s entrance into use, governments, civic organizations, and citizens sought repeatedly to modify and repeal portions of the Act without success. The American Library Association (ALA) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lobbied against provisions of the Act. This brief history reflects the difficulties governments, civic groups, and citizens face in attempting to modify or repeal portions of the USA PATRIOT Act. Al-Qaeda has been degraded significantly since 9/11, but terrorism remains a significant threat to the United States, as the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing vividly illustrates.
Former Vice President Al Gore called the surveillance “obscenely outrageous” on Twitter.
But others came out in support of the NSA’s efforts.
Scholars can therefore benefit from exploring how the USA PATRIOT Act took shape and evolved, and why anti-terrorism laws can be difficult to unwind.
The USA PATRIOT Act: a Sticky History A brief survey of the history of the USA PATRIOT Act provides a glimpse of how anti-terrorism laws can form after terrorist attacks, how the effects of these laws can quickly expand, and how efforts to modify or repeal portions can prove challenging. Previously, this responsibility was spread among a number of agencies, including the Department of the Treasury (DOT), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the DOJ. The Act provoked controversy after it was passed and, as the recent NSA surveillance revelations make clear, it continues to do so today.
Federal agencies use NSLs to demand disclosure of certain records from an organization; they are a form of administrative subpoena that can be issued without judicial review. The number of NSLs drastically increased after the Act took effect. Supreme Court—raised serious questions about the Act’s constitutionality.The ratchet effect can occur because anti-terrorism laws are effective.Anti-terrorism laws may stick simply because they work.But that does not necessarily mean the laws will work only for that group, or apply only to similar types of terrorist attacks.Al-Qaeda’s attack on 9/11 spurred the creation of the USA PATRIOT Act.