PATRIOT Act: Last Refuge of Scoundrels

“Patriotism,” as Samuel Johnson famously said, “is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” In that sense, perhaps the USA PATRIOT Act is appropriately named after all.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, most people (though not everyone) agreed that the government should be given additional investigative powers to reduce the risk of more terrorist attacks. The fact that perfectly good intelligence was already available and ignored before 9/11 was considered water under the bridge. The attacks signaled a new era in national defense.

Electronic communications bore the brunt of government complaints that the enemy had outpaced the government in an information arms race, and not surprisingly some of the most contentious features of the PATRIOT Act involved provisions to expand government powers of surveillance, information collection, and secrecy:

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