Patriot Act's reach still in question

Sunday, September 11, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:56 p.m. CDT, Sunday, September 11, 2011

COLUMBIA — Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed the Patriot Act, giving the federal government broader authority to monitor potential threats to the country’s security.

President George W. Bush signed the act into law on Oct. 26, 2001. 

Airport security beefed up in Columbia

After 9/11, the Transportation Safety Administration replaced the Federal Aviation Administration as the authority over airline security hires, procedures and equipment.

At Columbia Regional Airport, the TSA recruits and trains employees — called transportation security officers — to work in U.S. airports.

Columbia’s airport has a partial security status because of its size. It has the same standards of security and procedures, but less equipment and fewer workers than a bigger airport.

The most recent addition to the TSA equipment list is the full-body scanner, officially called advanced imaging technology. Columbia’s airport does not have any of the scanners.

Still, the screening area at the airport closely resembles that of other TSA locations around the country. The TSA deploys five workers for each flight, along with a baggage X-ray machine, a metal detector and a glass booth for more in-depth searches.

Because Memphis is the only destination, Columbia’s airport has no need for multiple screening gates.

With only three round-trip flights a day, Columbia airport affiliates said the number of daily passengers is manageable for security.

— Joe Weber


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The legislation prompted tighter security measures at the nation's airports and allowed banks to require more information from customers to confirm their identities.

The Patriot Act also amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, letting the government expand its methods of electronic surveillance.

These amendments permit the government to use wiretapping to detect terrorists using high-tech methods to plan an attack, and give police the ability to obtain secret search warrants allowing them to investigate criminals' homes without giving advance warning.

Supporters say the act was created to curb terrorist activities, but many Americans question whether the government is breaching civil liberties in its effort to protect the U.S. from future attacks.

Americans have also found that some of the act's provisions — in particular, tightened airport security measures — seem to be more of a nuisance than a necessity.

Civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union are more direct in their criticism. They say the Patriot Act diminishes a citizen's right to privacy.

“It’s none of the government’s business what book I check out of the library, what emails I send or what websites I visit,” said Dan Viets, a local attorney and board member of the mid-Missouri chapter of the ACLU.

Viets said changes to laws and policies are a decision for politicians and other elected government officials.

“Every time there’s a perceived crisis, many politicians’ first impulse is to sacrifice our rights,” Viets said.

John Chasnoff of the ACLU’s St. Louis chapter agreed that the Patriot Act “goes too far.” He specifically disagrees with the government’s use of wiretapping and secret search warrants.

Chasnoff said the ACLU is one of the leading organizations defending the rights of the Muslim community, which has been particularly affected by the nation's evolving security procedures.

The Patriot Act also revised banking practices, which were intended to prevent international money laundering and stop those who finance terrorism. All the banks must now solicit sufficient customer data to be able to clearly identify them. Banks must maintain customer records that include name, date of birth, address and a Social Security or other ID number, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Banks also must report potential money laundering and other suspicious activities, and keep a list of known or suspected terrorists and terrorist groups on hand for bank representatives to check when someone opens a new account.

Columbia bank representatives say the act has had both positive and negative effects for financial institutions.
Matt Williams, market president at Columbia's Hawthorn Bank, cites the development of banking software as a positive effect, allowing banks to more readily safeguard against all dishonest people, not just those intent on terrorism. But, he said, the additional regulations do "take away flexibility" for his small bank.
Mary Wilkerson, senior vice president of marketing communications at Boone County National Bank, said the Patriot Act made the banking process simultaneously safer and more complicated.

“Community banks pride themselves on ‘knowing their customer,’” she said. “However, with the Patriot Act, verification of a customer’s identity in concrete form is a must. You have to have proper ID or you can’t help the customer.”

Ari Peery and Sarah Sadler reported this story during the Minority Urban Journalism Workshop held this summer at the MU School of Journalism.

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