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Privacy then and now: Some history of the “Patriot” Act

Declan McCullagh describes how the pre-2001 “Enhancement of Privacy and Public Safety in Cyberspace Act,” which was unacceptable to Congress, morphed into the “Combating Terrorism Act of 2001” and then into the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001,” which was rushed through Congress and passed without giving members time time to read the changes that had been incorporated in it.

  • How 9/11 attacks reshaped U.S. privacy debate, by Declan McCullagh, cnet, (September 9, 2011).

    After the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, however, the sentiment in political circles quickly shifted from protecting electronic privacy to facilitating government surveillance. The privacy bill approved by the committee by such a lopsided margin disappeared.

    …”Perhaps the biggest systemic change in the way the government conducts investigations since 9/11 is the transition from targeted surveillance–where the government picks a target and spies on that person–to untargeted wholesale surveillance, where masses of people are surveilled,” says Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “And then the government decides who it wants to focus on.”

McCullagh suggests that “the political pendulum appear[s] to be swinging back to favor privacy. It’s being driven by concerns over mobile device tracking, government access to data, airport body scanners–and the Patriot Act itself” but that “the FBI and other police agencies aren’t exactly eager to relinquish their expanded authority.”

A new poll reports mixed public opinion.

  • Poll: OK to trade some freedoms to fight terrorism, By Jennifer Agiesta, Associated Press (Sept 6, 2011).

    Ten years after the 9/11 attacks led to amped-up government surveillance efforts, two-thirds of Americans say it’s fitting to sacrifice some privacy and freedoms in the fight against terrorism, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

    …A slim majority — 54 percent — say that if they had to choose between preserving their rights and freedoms and protecting people from terrorists, they’d come down on the side of civil liberties. The public is particularly protective of the privacy of U.S. citizens, voicing sharp opposition to government surveillance of Americans’ emails and phone calls.

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