On October 26, 2001, just weeks after the September 11 attacks, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism). which gave the government greater ability to seek out for and combat terrorist activity in the United States.
The PATRIOT Act grants the Secretary of the Treasury with new regulatory powers to fight money laundering from foreign countries in U.S. banks; secures national borders against foreign nationals who are terrorists or who support terrorism; eases restrictions on interception and surveillance of correspondence and communication that may link to terrorist activity; stiffens penalties against money laundering, counterfeiting, charity fraud, and similar crimes; and creates new crimes and penalties for such acts as harboring terrorists and giving terrorists material support.
Civil liberties groups complained that the PATRIOT Act granted the federal government too much power to investigate innocent people or to track private records. Section 215 of the Act, which gives the FBI permission to examine business records for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations, has been called the “library provision” because some have read it to mean that libraries will be required to turn over lists of who has checked out which books.
As of the end of 2005 certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act were slated to sunset by February 2006, although members of Congress were planning to seek renewal or compromise on certain sections that were controversial, such as Section 215.
Efforts such as the PATRIOT Act illustrate part of the difficulty of confronting terrorism. On the one hand, people want to feel safe in their own communities, not fearful that their lives are in constant danger. Many people believe that safety is so important that putting some minor constraints on personal freedom is worth the price. On the other hand, many people feel that the short-term gains of giving up some freedom could have a long-term impact because there is no guarantee that other freedoms could not be compromised. In the end, it is a matter of striking a balance that provides safety without taking away the rights of the innocent.