What Is the Patriot Act?

ByABC News

June 29, 2005 — -- The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, more commonly known as the Patriot Act, was passed by Congress in October 2001 to give law enforcement increased powers in the fight against terrorism.

Running 342 pages, the law contains more than 150 sections, most of which are amendments to existing statutes.

The Patriot Act was first presented to Congress five days after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and passed 45 days later. Written into the law were so-called "sunset" provisions, which set about 10 percent of the sections to expire on Dec. 31, 2005, unless Congress votes to keep them in effect.

The law was passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress -- by a 98-1 margin in the Senate and 356-66 in the House -- but since then a growing number of legislators have become critical of it. Most of those expressing concern have been Democrats.

Concerns from the public likewise have grown. At first the critics were mostly immigrants' rights groups and civil liberties advocates, but a number of conservative organizations and gun rights advocates have joined the call to re-examine the Patriot Act.

Across the country, seven states -- Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana and Vermont -- and 382 cities, counties and towns have adopted resolutions expressing concern about the Patriot Act's potential infringement on civil liberties. Nearly 300 more resolutions are being considered, including 19 statewide resolutions in states as diverse as Wyoming, Tennessee and Massachusetts.

Among the sections due to expire at the end of the year that have drawn criticism are:

Among the provisions of the Patriot Act that are not due to "sunset" but that civil liberties groups say are problematic are:

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