The Patriot Act


In the aftermath of 9/11, the US government created and passed the Patriot Act; legislation designed, in part, to prevent further terrorist attacks by gathering information on communications within and outside of the US with questionable legality on US citizens. In its origins, the Patriot Act was widely supported as a means of combatting terrorism, but public support wavered and the bill became increasingly controversial each time it was reauthorized because the surveillance did not lead to much intelligence. Moreover, leaks from individuals like Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and others further polarized the Patriot Act by demonstrating the extent of the government’s ability to gather intelligence

Essential Question:

  1. How did the Patriot Act change surveillance in America? (i.e. who was surveilled, what data could be gathered, and how could the data be used?) 
  2. What were the different reactions to the Patriot Act and how did they change over time? 
  3. Why do you think WikiLeaks/Edward Snowden/other whistleblowers changed Americans’ perspectives on surveillance/trust in the government? 
  4. Based on these sources, would you consent to the government collecting private information about you? 
  5. Do you think the Patriot Act was successful in meeting its goals? 
  6. How does the language differ between the Patriot Act itself, the government’s official response, and people’s reactions to it? 
    1. Is the language of the law accessible to all? Why does that matter? 
  7. What do these sources tell us about the debate between individual liberty vs. national security? How has that debate shifted over time? 


    1. – archive of “official” responses to the patriot act, including congressional testimony/letters and transcripts. 
      • These are a series of quotes from different people like former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, the Attorney General, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and even President Bush explaining how the US Patriot Act combats terrorism and why it’s important to renew it.
      • EQ: 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7
  1. Articles on reauthorization
      • This is a Vox article from May of 2020 explaining how the Patriot Act was reauthorized by Congress and the changes to the Patriot Act.
      • EQ: 1, 2, 4, and 7
  1. Citizenfour:
    • Citizenfour is the documentary feature about Edward Snowden and his decision to week classified NSA files and the blowback from this leak.
    • EQ: 1, 3, 4, and 7
    • We Steal Secrets is a documentary film about Julian Assange and the story of Wikileaks.
    • EQ: 1, 3, 4, and 7
  3. Excerpts of patriot act
      • This is a Q&A with the Brennan Center for Justice, which is a division at the NYU School of Law. This document has some commonly asked questions about The FBI and NSA surveillance programs: the legal justification for the program, what the NSA was doing, and who was in charge of oversight? The answers are no more than two paragraphs per question and are written for the more general public and are easier to understand, instead of the verbose and complicated language of the Patriot Act.
      • EQ: 1, 3, 4, 6, and 7
    • (Section 215 is on pg 17-18.)
      • An entire text copy of the US Patriot Act pages 17 and 18 contains the most controversial provision of the document section 215. Section 215 outlines how the government can collect records such as books, documents, papers, and other items that could potentially be used in an investigation.
      • EQ: 1, 3, 4, 6, and 7
  4. Speeches 
    • Bush’s announcement: 
      • This is the speech that George W Bush gave announcing the authorization of the Patriot Act. He talks about the changing elements in warfare and terrorism and how this new legislation can both target and identify terrorists while also protecting the Homeland from further attacks.
      • EQ: 1, 6, and 7
    • People’s reactions (polls) to patriot act 

Types of Sources:

  • Music Lyrics
  • Speech
  • Public Opinion Polls + Explanation Article
  • Governmental Act
  • News Article
  • Congressional speeches/proclamations
  • CIA/FBI Intelligence Memos