With our nation’s tragedy of September 11, 2001, arose a deeply shaken America, shocked by the extent of the cruelty. An act of terrorism of that magnitude had never been seen before in our country. Patriots quickly came together, supporting the president to pass legislation, known as the USA Patriot Act, to tackle internal and external threats to this nation. The debate ensued, focused on which types of surveillance technology should or shouldn't be allowed for arresting terrorists. However, the question remains as to how these devices are going to be used, and how personally are those who use them held accountable. The purpose of this paper is to confirm that the proposed monitoring and archiving of users’ information on social networking sites would represent yet another erosion of our civil liberties for only a minor gain to our national security.
The USA Patriot Act or simply the Patriot Act sanctions the use of wiretaps, additional surveillance of technology, such as voice mail and e-mail, trap and trace devices, and demands for educational and business records. The Department of Justice justifies that such actions in criminal investigations, have been used for years. However, this action comes under intense scrutiny by critics such as the ACLU who maintain that the secrecy surrounding the use of such tools as well as lower criteria for attaining the authority to use them “represents a broad expansion of power without building in a necessary privacy protection” (The USA PATRIOT Act: Myth vs. Reality, n.d.).
The Patriot Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001, 45 days after the terrorist attacks on September 11th. The debate over what the Patriot Act actually allows law enforcement officials to do, however, creates focus on the balance of national security and protection of civil liberties. One of the laws included in the Patriot Act is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or ECPA. The ECPA is used to monitor and retain information while intercepting “….email and other electronic communications…” and specifies the government’s access to this type of information (The USA Patriot Act, 2005, p.4). One difference between the ECPA and other laws included in this Act is probable cause. The ECPA does not mandate probable cause, thus posing serious privacy violations with the use of trap and trace devices.
According to Gerdes, in the book, “The Patriot Act,” a trap and trace device is described as “a device which captures the incoming electronic or other impulses which identify the originating number of an instrument or device from which a wire or electronic communication was transmitted” (Gerdes, 2005, p.119). The trap and trace information, which is tailored to electronic communication, can only be relevant during court proceedings when an attorney provides a judicial certification before the installation (The USA Patriot Act, 2005, p. 5). According to the ACLU, the trap and trace devices...