Rethinking the Patriot Act

Keeping America Safe and Free

Stephen J. Schulhofer
Release Date: June 1, 2005

The USA Patriot Act One is of the most controversial and possibly one of the most misunderstood laws Congress has ever enacted. For many Americans, it is synonymous with an egregious and unjustifiable suspension of the Bill of Rights. Others, troubled but more cautious, identify the Patriot Act with the grant of unprecedented powers that put civil liberties at some risk. Many who reject these concerns nonetheless accept their underlying assumption-that the Patriot Act does indeed give the federal government a package of powerful new search and surveillance tools.

In Rethinking the Patriot Act, Stephen J. Schulhofer explains the act’s most important provisions and reviews the best information currently available to gauge their usefulness and their effects in practice. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Schulhofer argues that much of the Patriot Act was essential, and some of it, if not essential, was reasonably defensible. In fact, the act includes provisions-seldom noticed-that add new protections for certain civil liberties, extend new benefits to certain immigrant groups, and provide new remedies for violations of individual rights. Nonetheless, Schulhofer concludes, many of the act’s new powers are far too broad, and even where the case for broad powers is strong, they were typically conferred with little effort to assure transparency and accountability.