Congress Takes on the Cyberterrorist

cyberterroristThe Patriot Act, passed by congress in 2001 is part of statutory law, and this article looks at the implications of the act on cyberterrorism, and considers the crimes of the cyberterrorist amongst other types of computer crimes. Pushed through in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon the legislation’s full name is, “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act” (Public Law 107-56, 115 Statutes § 272, 2001). Following the act it became a federal crime to commit dangerous and illegal acts on U.S. soil where those acts have the intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian or the government.


Cyberterrorism is the act of hacking into government computer systems, but under the Patriot Act also extends to hacking into and damaging any networked computer. It is punishable by up to twenty years in prison. Cyber sleuthing laws were also taken into account, and it was determined that Federal agents can gather information about suspected terrorists once they have a court order. The information must be relevant to an ongoing investigation, and enables the agent to track the sites being visited, and the names and organizations that are corresponded with via email. In order to see the contents of the emails additional authority is required. Federal agents are also able to obtain court orders for roving wiretaps on individuals suspected of terrorist activities. The law enables them to listen in on any of the phones the suspect uses.

In 2006 the Patriot Act was reenacted, with some sections of the original law deleted or amended. One of the most significant changes was the creation of a new Assistant Attorney General for National Security. This had the effect of consolidating previously disparate national security and intelligence operations.

The act is a controversial one, with many believing that it violates the constitution. In particular, it has expanded the rights of law enforcement to seize and search which seems to violate the right to privacy. It is also contested that the vagueness of the definition of “domestic terrorism” means that those using their First Amendment rights in expressing disagreement with government policies could fall into this category. Some attorneys have suggest that the act does away with the right to the due process of law, particularly in the case of immigrants. At the end of the day it is down to federal agents and judges to exercise the new powers in a legitimate fashion, but this leaves the act open to interpretation that violates the constitution.

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