Legislative History of the USA Patriot Act in HeinOnline

Current Events, Exploring HeinOnline, Statutes at Large, U.S. Federal Legislative History
Shannon Furtak

In response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress rushed to pass legislation to alleviate the fears and concerns felt by Americans, and to strengthen national security. The result was the USA Patriot Act, or the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, signed by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. The Patriot Act impacted several existing acts available in HeinOnline's U.S. Statutes at Large library, including:

The USA Patriot Act addressed these acts in multiple ways. It established dedicated funds for counter-terrorist measures and expanded abilities for several groups, including the military, the National Electronic Crime Task Force, and the government to help combat terrorism. Government agencies were given significantly greater leeway regarding surveillance procedures. To stop money laundering from financing terrorism, financial institutions' record-keeping requirements were tightened and various restrictions were placed on different types of accounts and foreign banks. Border security was increased, and more investigative power was given to both the U.S. Attorney General and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Obstacles to terrorism investigation were removed with the passage of the USA Patriot Act, including one of its most controversial aspects, which enabled the Federal Bureau of Investigation to use National Security Letters to demand various records and data without probable cause or judicial oversight.

The obvious goal of the USA Patriot Act was, in short, to make it easier for the government to discover, fight, and prosecute perpetrators of terrorist activities. This did not pass without controversy, due to the magnitude of the Act, the hastiness in which it was passed, and strong concerns about potential privacy rights violations. Many provisions of the Act were input with sunset dates, and many of these dates have been extended during the past 15 years.

Excellent summaries and timelines of the passage and subsequent activities surrounding the USA Patriot Act are available on Wikipedia, aljazeera.com, and justice.gov. However, many law students and legal scholars require much more detail than these summaries are able to provide. HeinOnline has an extensive collection of compiled federal legislative histories, including a three-series set on this Act. Simply enter the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library, select Browse by: Public Law No. and then select Congress Number 107. From there, choose the USA Patriot Act entry:

Available material for this public law includes the legislative history of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbid the use of the Army to execute civil law, except where expressly authorized. The USA Patriot Act drastically broadened the ability of the military to assist law enforcement agencies in fighting terrorism.

There are also three series of volumes pertaining directly to the USA Patriot Act available online, including:

  • Series I, a five-volume set covering the Act itself.
  • Series II, an 11-volume set concentrating on events occurring after the Act was implemented, covering the time period of 2001 through October 2005.
  • Series III, a five-volume set focusing on which parts of the original legislation should be extended or allowed to expire, covering November 2005 through December 2006.

Hein also has a fourth series currently available in print only:

  • Series IV, a five-volume set pertaining to continuing legislative activity on the Act, covering through June 2015. Series IV is brand new and is available to order in print; it will be added to HeinOnline at a future date.

Searching HeinOnline for  "Patriot Act" AND "national security" AND privacy produces thousands of results, including both primary and secondary sources. This case, available through HeinOnline's partnership with Fastcase, discusses the provision of the Patriot Act pertaining to bulk telephone metadata collection. This article from the Denver Law Review focuses on balancing privacy with national security. Results also include several hundred Congressional hearings, multiple subsequent public laws pertaining to the original Act, and more.

If you have questions about searching in HeinOnline, contact our support team at (800) 277-6995, email us, or chat with us. For more information on ordering Series IV of the Legislative History of the USA Patriot Act, contact our marketing team.