Ways Patriot Act Violates the the Constitution

Patriot Act Violations on the First and Fourth Amendments


On September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the United States and this sent fear, shock and uncertainty across the nation. Within a few hours, the minds of many Americans changed, and their view on terrorism changed too thus sparking interests to amend the law in the effort of avoiding future attacks (Bedi, 1809). In just six after the attack, the United States government rushed to pass critical legislation that has severe restrictions on the rights of Americans. A panicked Congress went ahead to pass the Patriot Act that revised surveillance laws and expanded the authority of government to spy on citizens (Kashan, 28). Patriot Act went ahead to reduce checks and balances on critical powers such as public accountability, judicial oversight, and the ability of an individual to challenge government searches even in court.

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Signed on October 26, 2001, the Patriot Act has more than 340 pages that resulted in amending over 15 federal laws that started national conversations over its appropriateness. Many people opposed to the law argue that it violated several constitutional provisions such as the fourth amendment through unreasonable searches and seizures. Patriot Act also went ahead to violate the first amendment freedoms of association and speech in that order. Civil liberty campaigners noted that the law was an assault on individual liberties and that the government was free to violate the rights of Americans. The paper seeks to discuss some of the ways the Patriot Act violates the first and fourth amendment.

Ways Patriot Act Violates the First and Fourth Amendment of the Constitution

Section 213 – Sneak and Peek Warrants

The sneak and peek warrants are also known as warrants offered on delayed notification by government law enforcement (Bedi, 1809). In this case, the police and other law enforcement agents are allowed to conduct searches on people and their property without informing the suspects until later. The warrants have been said to be unconstitutional by a district judge because it violates the rights and responsibility of people (Kashan, 28). After the government appealing to the ruling, the warrant remains to be one of the contentious issues affecting American citizens even after today.

Section 206 – Roving Wiretaps

Roving wiretaps have long been law violation done by law enforcement officers when they follow individual suspects using the internet platforms accounts and telephone (Ombres, 27). In an account that the target is changing phone numbers and internet accounts to frustrate surveillance, law enforcement officers are allowed to use other unconventional ways of getting the targets head-on. The Patriot Act expanded the illegal use of powers and wiretaps can now be used for the sake of intelligence or to violate the fourth amendment on top criminal investigations. Therefore, the intelligence cases using wiretaps and Patriot Act ostentatiously violates the fourth amendment by allowing for expanded requirements of the taps (Dennis, 737). The law requires that in case of criminal cases, law enforcement should provide the name of the suspect and list of facilities to be inspected, and they should be monitored thoroughly.

Section 214 – Trap and Trace Searches

These pen register searches allow for searches by the law enforcement officers without obtaining the consent of the target (Kashan, 28). The searches are a breach of the fourth amendment because there is no probable cause that is required for one to get a warrant. Crimination investigation agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation are required to certify the judge and without having it prove it to make the authorization relevant given an ongoing criminal investigation. The judge has no powers to cancel the application but has information on the impending searches over various criminals (Bedi, 1809). The Patriot Act also expanded the use of these searches by making an order to be issued to the judge applied to the internet and nationwide, thus victimizing the role of the judiciary.

Section 218 – Intelligence Wiretaps

The foreign intelligence surveillance Act of 1978 provides for an exception to the fourth amendment to allow law enforcement to use wiretaps in the effort of gathering information for intelligence reasons (Dennis, 737). The law required the police and affiliated law enforcement agencies to conduct searches without probable cause and without trying to obtain foreign intelligence information. In addition to that, the Patriot Act has expanded such limits to allow for searches on various citizens without probable cause as requested by intelligence organs (Ombres, 27). It enables the government to thwart the constitutional requirements, even the primary goal of searches is meant for intelligence.

Access to Personal Records held by Third Parties

One of the most contrary provisions of the Patriot Act is where it allows federal authorities to have access to records of citizens in the hands of third parties (Bedi, 1809). With the current use of computers in almost everything, the Patriot Act allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to force any person including bookstore, internet service providers or universities to have access to their customer’s information. It gives federal authorities unchecked powers of accessing critical records of an individual including medical histories, financial records, library usage, travel patterns, among other things with files. The federal bureau of investigation is not required to show a reasonable suspicion that the documents requested are connected to specific criminal activities being investigated (Kashan, 28). The judicial oversight for the unchecked powers provided by the Patriot Act and this is likely to bring unprecedented breaching of the law.

The expansion of records searches is unconstitutional because it violates the fundamental laws of individual and other entities (Ombres, 27). It violates the fourth amendment, which prohibits the government to conduct various searches without having a valid warrant indicating a probable cause. It violates the first amendment because it prohibits individuals affected by the forced searches from telling others of the orders, thus breaching freedom of speech. In connection to this, it violates the first amendment by authorizing the federal bureau of investigation to start various investigation in part of exercising the freedom of speech. The failure to provide notice for searches is a violation of the fourth amendment because the privacy of an individual has been compromised (Dennis, 737). Giving notice is an essential way of conducting the due process and is consistent with the constitution and the fourth amendment.

Undermining Judicial Oversight of Law Enforcement Authorities

Patriot Act plays a leading role in undermining the exclusive role of the judiciary in overseeing various exercises of the executive agencies. The act has been blamed for introducing several short cuts for the federal agencies in dealing with crime, thus breaching the law (Ombres, 27). Courts are required to issue specific orders that grant law enforcement officials with permission of accessing sensitive information as a requirement. The act refutes the judiciary as an independent arm of government whose prime responsibility is safeguarding citizens against excessive use of powers by the government. Additionally, the Patriot Act subjects the federal bureau of investigation to internet surveillance and other online communications without standardization to deliver effective results (Kashan, 28). Law enforcement may have access to this critical information and merely modify or alter it to possibly correspond to a particular case in question.

Unjustified New Powers

Many people who are opposed to the Patriot Act argue that it came into law without passing through due process (Dennis, 737). In this regard, the Patriot Act came into law in less than seven weeks after the 9/11, and this period is considered small. In congressional terms, the time was limited, and that is why it has some of the worrisome parts due to haste with which it was debated. Lawyers, those who in control of the law at that time noted that the law was not conclusive, and it contravened legal requirement in terms of time and public scrutiny (Bedi, 1809). Congress reacted too fast in response to the 9/11 attacks because it affects innocent Americans than terrorists.


Throughout the United States history, national security has been given a lot of priority over civil liberties begging the question of constitutional sovereignty (Ombres, 27). As a response to the 9/11 terrorist attack at the twin towers, the congress rushed to pass the patriot act that was implemented as a way of increasing national security and preventing the country from another terrorist attack. However, the legislation is a gross violation of the first and fourth amendment of the bill of rights as it contradicts with required law (Dennis, 737). Therefore, the Patriot Act and the emerging technological advancements have been leading items that have depleted the privacy rights of Americans.

Work Cited

Dennis, Erin Smith. “A Mosaic Shield: Maynard, the Fourth Amendment, and Privacy Rights in the Digital Age.” Cardozo L. Rev. 33 (2011): 737.

Ombres, Devon. “NSA domestic surveillance from the Patriot Act to the Freedom Act: the underlying history, constitutional basis, and the efforts at reform.” Seton Hall Legis. J. 39, (2015): 27.

Kashan, Sunya. “The USA Patriot Act: Impact on freedoms and civil liberties.” Essai 7.1 (2010): 28.

Bedi, Monu. “Social networks, government surveillance, and the Fourth Amendment Mosaic Theory.” BUL Rev. 94 (2014): 1809.


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