Will USA Patriot Act Protect More Privacy?

On 2nd June 2015, a new law has been enacted in the United States. The law is called the USA Freedom Act, an acronym of “Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring Act”. It was established because of the American public opinion criticising the government and the NSA (National Security Agency) for their collective censorship of the indiscriminate mass. The former law, the USA Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act), permitted the government to limit human rights including basic privacy in the name of national security and to collect personal information of American citizens, regardless of their relations to terrorism. Since this law was replaced with the USA Freedom Act, there are some people who urge that the level of American security has been lowered. However, those who insist so do not analyse the situation carefully. The United States will continue to try to root out terrorist attacks exploiting the NSA even under the USA Freedom Act.

The USA Patriot Act was established right after September 11 Attacks in 2001 without prudent discussion because the United States rushed to legally protect the country from terrorist threat. Legally based on this law, the American government carried out massive censorship such as PRISM, a surveillance programme for the users of Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and so forth. However, Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the authors of the USA Patriot Act, said the law was not intended to collect personal information so indiscriminately. In spite of the first intention of the author and the fact that the NSA operated surveillance out of the intention of the law, the NSA used the section 215 of the USA Patriot Act as an excuse of conducting the censorship of telephones, emails and internet among the whole American citizens. The section itself says officers can require “the production of any tangible things … for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities”.

Many American citizens, at first, thought it might be necessary to prevent possible terrorist attacks from terrorising the nation since the September 11 Attacks heavily affected and threatened them in the bottom of their mind; however, they woke up to the shocking disclosure leaked by Edward Snowden. The NSA’s action outraged the people; the mass came out of their homes and shouted: “stop watching us”, “the Patriot Act is not patriotic”, “sunset the Patriot Act”. They finally realised that what the USA Patriot Act legitimated was too much. On 1st June, the USA Patriot Act sunsetted on the day before the new law of the USA Freedom Act was established. As the root of all evil is gone, it seems that there is no longer problem. However, the end of the USA Patriot Act does not mean the end of the problem.

In fact, although the USA Freedom Act forbids collecting information of normal citizens without any relations to terrorist groups or thoughts collectively, it still admits the surveillance against terrorists including possible ones and lone-wolves, those who act alone and have dangerous political view. If the surveillance is needed, it has to get a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC); moreover, since the NSA cannot store the data like it used to, it has to ask telecommunication companies. However, it can be only a matter of interpretation—the FISC might give the NSA warrants so easily that as if there were no limitations, that is, this justification could be just a superficial procedure. The FISC is merely a minion of the government. Edward Snowden files exposed that the FISC issued a warrant which requires a telephone company to provide the call logs to the NSA. Thus, it is not surprising if the FISC gives a full permission to censor the mass again.

Furthermore, today’s information technology can easily detect and effectively investigate certain target even if the collected data had a strict limitation. Although they used to collect and store an overwhelming big data of various information, they were able to analyse the data with high-tech systems. The new law indeed burdens the NSA with much heavier fetters and it cannot surf the sea of information like it used to any longer; however, the technology would help and assist the surveillance very well. In addition, the limitation would be even better for them because the amount of data they have to analyse decreased, which would lead them to efficiently anatomise the sophisticated data without spending time on totally unrelated data. Over all, the limitation of the information may not result in the weakening of prevention of terrorist attacks; even more, it might strengthen the effectivity of analysing the big data.

Additionally, some people think that the USA Freedom Act gave a manual with good reason for the NSA—concrete dos and don’ts—which would also help its surveillance to be conducted efficiently. The NSA used to collect personal information indiscriminately based on a vague justification defined by the USA Patriot Act; but it now has a specific ground to survey the people if it is permitted to do so by the FISC. As mentioned above, the FISC could give the NSA the consent to surveillance against anyone in any time; the NSA would insist that the surveillance was done with the permission and it broke no laws. In a way, the USA Freedom Act might have given the NSA a worse justification for the people.

Some would argue that the NSA would not exploit the law because of relations with allies since they suspect the United States as its notorious open secrets have been practically exposed. However, the United State is not a country which cares that kind of matter. It once started war in Iraq without the agreement of the United Nations Security Council like it does not consider the consensus of the world. Besides, some allies of the United States such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada share the information with the United States. It is obvious that they will never condemn the United States as far as they receive the precious and abundant information from it. In reality, they all actually blame the disclosure of Edward Snowden as soon as the media reported the leak. The United States of course had many top secret files from these countries; but for them, it is much convenient to keep tie with the NSA and the United States than criticising American way and break ties with United States so long as it provides significant information and technology.

However, since “journalism’s first obligation is to the truth” and “its first loyalty is to citizens” and ultimately “it must serve as an independent monitor of power” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2007), journalists cannot ignore dirty politics. The main reason why the media miss the scoop intentionally is because they are afraid of the pressure from the government which could sue them and even wipe them out of the country. In the Middle East, it can happen to every medium, but the media in “developed” countries in the West should have no fear and nobly confront the injustice. Look at Guardian, which played a significant role in the Edward Snowden disclosure, it still exists and reports news today. Taking a strong attitude to the government will certainly make journalists get involved in a difficult situation like it might be harder to get press pass for the White House, but it is worth trying because that is the very journalists’ job.

Meanwhile, Japan has a strong tie with the United States in a military way and the United States considers Japan as the most significant ally in Asia as Japan is the third most economically large country in the world and was the bulwark against communism. Therefore, the United States may have many secrets with Japan including agreements which could be negative to Japanese citizens. In that case, what Japanese journalists have to do is to reveal the secrets without hesitation and raise a wide discussion about the relations between Japan and the United States. Furthermore, Japanese government has to avoid going through hardship when it makes promises with the United States, especially the one which could have a disadvantageous influence on its citizens.

To sum up, the NSA will continue to oversee the mass although the USA Patriot Act, which helped the NSA to censor the whole American people with no distinction, has been replaced with the USA Freedom Act, which many people consider that it restricted the NSA’s outrage upon the personal security and freedom thanks to a detailed legal manual on the new law and an advanced information technology. In addition, allies of the United States also will carry on supporting American censorship as they would get a considerable advantage. Thus, international journalists including Japanese ones have to stand up against the fact that the censorship of the NSA is indiscriminate in collecting private information of the citizens. In the freedom versus national security battle, the national security still wins in the United States.


Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT Act) Act of 2001. United States Government Publishing Office. Retrieved on 13 July.

Kovach, Bill, & Rosenstiel Tom. (2007). The Elements of Journalism. Three Rivers Press.

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