The USA PATRIOT Act: A Sketch

CRS Report for Congress
The USA PATRIOT Act: A Sketch
Charles Doyle
Senior Specialist
American Law Division
Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act (the Act) in response to the terrorists’
attacks of September 11, 2001. The Act gives federal officials greater authority to track
and intercept communications, both for law enforcement and foreign intelligence
gathering purposes. It vests the Secretary of the Treasury with regulatory powers to
combat corruption of U.S. financial institutions for foreign money laundering purposes.
It seeks to further close our borders to foreign terrorists and to detain and remove those
within our borders. It creates new crimes, new penalties, and new procedural
efficiencies for use against domestic and international terrorists. Although it is not
without safeguards, critics contend some of its provisions go too far. Although it grants
many of the enhancements sought by the Department of Justice, others are concerned
that it does not go far enough.
The Act originated as H.R.2975 (the PATRIOT Act) in the House and S.1510 in
the Senate (the USA Act). S.1510 passed the Senate on October 11, 2001, 147 Cong.
Rec. S10604 (daily ed.). The House Judiciary Committee reported out an amended
version of H.R. 2975 on the same day, H.R.Rep.No. 107-236. The House passed H.R.

2975 the following day after substituting the text of H.R. 3108, 147 Cong.Rec. H6775-

776 (daily ed. Oct. 12, 2001). The House version incorporated most of the money
laundering provisions found in an earlier House bill, H.R. 3004, many of which had
counterparts in S.1510 as approved by the Senate. The House subsequently passed a
clean bill, H.R. 3162 ( under suspension of the rules), which resolved the differences
between H.R. 2975 and S.1510, 147 Cong.Rec. H7224 (daily ed. Oct. 24, 2001). The
Senate agreed to the changes, 147 Cong.Rec. S10969 (daily ed. Oct. 24, 2001), and H.R.

3162 was sent to the President who signed it on October 26, 2001.

This is an abbreviated versions of The USA PATRIOT Act: A Legal Analysis, CRS
Report RL31377, stripped of its citations and footnotes.

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

Criminal Investigations: Tracking and Gathering
Federal communications privacy law features a three tiered system, erected for the
dual purpose of protecting the confidentiality of private telephone, face-to-face, and
computer communications while enabling authorities to identify and intercept criminal
communications. Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968
supplies the first level. It prohibits electronic eavesdropping on telephone conversations,
face-to-face conversations, or computer and other forms of electronic communications in
most instances. It does, however, give authorities a narrowly defined process for
electronic surveillance to be used as a last resort in serious criminal cases. When
approved by senior Justice Department officials, law enforcement officers may seek a
court order authorizing them to secretly capture conversations concerning any of a
statutory list of offenses (predicate offenses). Title III court orders come replete with
instructions describing the permissible duration and scope of the surveillance as well as
the conversations which may be seized and the efforts to be taken to minimize the seizure
of innocent conversations. The court notifies the parties to any conversations seized
under the order after the order expires.
Below Title III, the next tier of privacy protection covers telephone records, e-mail
held in third party storage, and the like, 18 U.S.C. 2701-2709 (Chapter 121). Here, the
law permits law enforcement access, ordinarily pursuant to a warrant or court order or
under a subpoena in some cases, but in connection with any criminal investigation and
without the extraordinary levels of approval or constraint that mark a Title III interception.
Least demanding and perhaps least intrusive of all is the procedure that governs court
orders approving the government’s use of trap and trace devices and pen registers, a kind
of secret “caller id.”, which identify the source and destination of calls made to and from
a particular telephone, 18 U.S.C. 3121-3127 (Chapter 206). The orders are available
based on the government's certification, rather than a finding of a court, that use of the
device is likely to produce information relevant to the investigation of a crime, any crime.
The devices record no more than identity of the participants in a telephone conversation,
but neither the orders nor the results they produce need ever be revealed to the
The Act modifies the procedures at each of the three levels. It:
!permits pen register and trap and trace orders for electronic
communications (e.g., e-mail);
!authorizes nationwide execution of court orders for pen registers, trap
and trace devices, and access to stored e-mail or communication records;
!treats stored voice mail like stored e-mail (rather than like telephone
!permits authorities to intercept communications to and from a trespasser
within a computer system (with the permission of the system’s owner);
!adds terrorist and computer crimes to Title III’s predicate offense list;
!reenforces protection for those who help execute Title III, ch. 121, and
ch. 206 orders;

!encourages cooperation between law enforcement and foreign
intelligence investigators;
!establishes a claim against the U.S. for certain communications privacy
violations by government personnel; and
!terminates the authority found in many of these provisions and several of
the foreign intelligence amendments with a sunset provision (Dec. 31,


Foreign Intelligence Investigations
The Act eases some of the restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the
United States, and affords the U.S. intelligence community greater access to information
unearthed during a criminal investigation, but it also establishes and expands safeguards
against official abuse. More specifically, it:
!permits “roving” surveillance (court orders omitting the identification of
the particular instrument, facilities, or place where the surveillance is to
occur when the court finds the target is likely to thwart identification with
!increases the number of judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act (FISA) court from 7 to 11;
!allows application for a FISA surveillance or search order when
gathering foreign intelligence is a significant reason for the application
rather than the reason;
!authorizes pen register and trap & trace device orders for e-mail as well
as telephone conversations;
!sanctions court ordered access to any tangible item rather than only
business records held by lodging, car rental, and locker rental businesses;
!carries a sunset provision;
!establishes a claim against the U.S. for certain communications privacy
violations by government personnel; and
!expands the prohibition against FISA orders based solely on an
American’s exercise of his or her First Amendment rights.
Money Laundering
In federal law, money laundering is the flow of cash or other valuables derived from,
or intended to facilitate, the commission of a criminal offense. It is the movement of the
fruits and instruments of crime. Federal authorities attack money laundering through
regulations, criminal sanctions, and forfeiture. The Act bolsters federal efforts in each
Regulation: The Act expands the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury to regulate
the activities of U.S. financial institutions, particularly their relations with foreign
individuals and entities. He is to promulgate regulations:
!under which securities brokers and dealers as well as commodity
merchants, advisors and pool operators must file suspicious activity
reports (SARs);

!requiring businesses, which were only to report cash transactions
involving more than $10,000 to the IRS, to file SARs as well;
!imposing additional “special measures” and “due diligence”
requirements to combat foreign money laundering;
!prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from maintaining correspondent
accounts for foreign shell banks;
!preventing financial institutions from allowing their customers to conceal
their financial activities by taking advantage of the institutions’
concentration account practices;
!establishing minimum new customer identification standards and record-
keeping and recommending an effective means to verify the identity of
foreign customers;
!encouraging financial institutions and law enforcement agencies to share
information concerning suspected money laundering and terrorist
activities; and
!requiring financial institutions to maintain anti-money laundering
programs which must include at least a compliance officer; an employee
training program; the development of internal policies, procedures and
controls; and an independent audit feature.
Crimes: The Act contains a number of new money laundering crimes, as well as
amendments and increased penalties for earlier crimes. It:
!outlaws laundering (in the U.S.) any of the proceeds from foreign crimes
of violence or political corruption;
!prohibits laundering the proceeds from cybercrime or supporting a
terrorist organization;
!increases the penalties for counterfeiting;
!seeks to overcome a Supreme Court decision finding that the confiscation
of over $300,000 (for attempt to leave the country without reporting it to
customs) constituted an unconstitutionally excessive fine;
!provides explicit authority to prosecute overseas fraud involving
American credit cards; and
!endeavors to permit prosecution of money laundering in the place where
the predicate offense occurs.
Forfeiture: The Act creates two types of forfeitures and modifies several confiscation-
related procedures. It allows confiscation of all of the property of any individual or entity
that participates in or plans an act of domestic or international terrorism; it also permits
confiscation of any property derived from or used to facilitate domestic or international
terrorism. The Constitution’s due process, double jeopardy, and ex post facto clauses may
limit the anticipated breath of these provisions. Procedurally, the Act:
!establishes a mechanism to acquire long arm jurisdiction, for purposes of
forfeiture proceedings, over individuals and entities;
!allows confiscation of property located in this country for a wider range
of crimes committed in violation of foreign law;
!permits U.S. enforcement of foreign forfeiture orders;

!calls for the seizure of correspondent accounts held in U.S. financial
institutions for foreign banks who are in turn holding forfeitable assets
overseas; and
!denies corporate entities the right to contest a confiscation if their
principal shareholder is a fugitive.
Alien Terrorists and Victims
The Act contains a number of provisions designed to prevent alien terrorists from
entering the United States, particularly from Canada; to enable authorities to detain and
deport alien terrorists and those who support them; and to provide humanitarian
immigration relief for foreign victims of the attacks on September 11.
Other Crimes, Penalties, & Procedures
New crimes: The Act creates new federal crimes for terrorist attacks on mass
transportation facilities, for biological weapons offenses, for harboring terrorists, for
affording terrorists material support, for misconduct associated with money laundering
already mentioned, for conducting the affairs of an enterprise which affects interstate or
foreign commerce through the patterned commission of terrorist offenses, and for
fraudulent charitable solicitation. Although strictly speaking these are new federal crimes,
they generally supplement existing law by filling gaps and increasing penalties.
New Penalties: The Act increases the penalties for acts of terrorism and for crimes
which terrorists might commit. More specifically it establishes an alternative maximum
penalty for acts of terrorism, raises the penalties for conspiracy to commit certain terrorist
offenses, envisions sentencing some terrorists to life-long parole, and increases the
penalties for counterfeiting, cybercrime, and charity fraud.
Other Procedural Adjustments: In other procedural adjustments designed to facilitate
criminal investigations, the Act:
!increases the rewards for information in terrorism cases;
!expands the Posse Comitatus Act exceptions;
!authorizes “sneak and peek” search warrants;
!permits nationwide and perhaps worldwide execution of warrants in
terrorism cases;
!eases government access to confidential information;
!allows the Attorney General to collect DNA samples from prisoners
convicted of any federal crime of violence or terrorism;
!lengthens the statute of limitations applicable to crimes of terrorism;
!clarifies the application of federal criminal law on American installations
and in residences of U.S. government personnel overseas; and
!adjust federal victims’ compensation and assistance programs.
A section, found in the Senate bill but ultimately dropped, would have changed the
provision of federal law which requires Justice Department prosecutors to adhere to the
ethical standards of the legal profession where they conduct their activities (the McDade-
Murtha Amendment), 28 U.S.C. 530B.