• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


The USA-Patriot Act, 10 Years Later: Prologue

September 8, 2011

On October 26, 2001, President Bush signed the USA-Patriot Act into law. It was just six short weeks after the events of September 11. I was attending my first EDUCAUSE national conference in Indianapolis that year. Not long after Congress began work on the bill, Polley McClure, Vice President of Information Technology at Cornell, suggested that I take a look at draft language to evaluate the impact on higher education and electronic communications. In Indianapolis, she mentioned to Brian Hawkins, then president of EDUCAUSE, something about my research. He responded by suggesting that a session be stood up immediately to address it. Two days later a group of about 50 met to hear three of us discuss the issue.

In the intervening two days I squirreled myself in the hotel room with three computers. The first had the legislation, the second could be made to find the legislation that it amended and the third was for my research notes and ultimately power point slides. Almost impossible to read as regular text, the Act was largely a series of amendments made to existing legislation such as the Family Education Rights Privacy Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, as well as the lesser know Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, the one that originally created the "secret courts" that at first blush many people assumed was a product of the Patriot Act.

In the intervening months, I felt as if I had been shot out of a cannon. Hunger for information about the Act and its meaning for higher education was as high as people's need to discuss the overall impact that the events of 9/11 and its aftermath was having on American society. It was an unbidden but rare experience for me. I traveled to any number of colleges, universities and libraries around the country speaking on the subject. Eventually in 2003, I wrote a piece published in the EDUCAUSE Review entitled "Civil Privacy and National Security Legislation: A Three Dimensional View" that summed up the main ideas in those presentations.


Commemoration of September 11 this tenth anniversary brought me in mind of these events. So has the recent writing of a chapter for a book on cybercrime, "The World of Cybercrime," edited by Samuel McQuaid at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Under the section devoted to privacy, a discussion of the "Patriot Act," as the Act has come to be called, comprises a significant segment. Over the next three days leading up to the anniversary, I am going to excerpt that section for reproduction here. Look for first segment tomorrow.


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