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What is the Patriot Act?

The Patriot Act is a law passed by Congress in 2001 in wake of 9/11. Among the many, many provisions on the Patriot Act, Congress passed laws making it a crime to attack, threaten to attack, or attempt to attack any modes of mass transportation, a crime punishable for up to 20 years or — if a passenger lost a life — life imprisonment. The Patriot Act also makes it a crime to commit any dangerous or illegal acts on U.S. soil with the intention to intimidate or coerce the government or a government official; to posses a weapon of mass destruction; hack into a government computer system; or give financial assistance to identified terrorist groups.

Moreover, the Patriot Act gives federal officials greater authority to track and intercept communications, both for law enforcement and foreign intelligence gathering purposes. Controversially, the Patriot Act give authorities a narrowly defined process for electronic surveillance to be used as a last resort in serious criminal cases (a narrowly defined process that has, arguably, been violated by the government). It further contains additional money-laundering crimes; increases the penalties for counterfeiting; allows confiscation of property located in this country for a wider range of crimes committed in violation of foreign law; enables authorities to detain and deport alien terrorists and those who support them; increases the rewards for information in terrorism cases; authorizes “sneak and peek” search warrants; and adjusts federal victims’ compensation and assistance programs. Among many other provisions, the Patriot Act also allows for roving wiretaps, enabling federal agents to obtain court orders to monitor a suspect’s conversations on any telephone he or she uses.