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In response to terrorist attacks upon the United States on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Patriot Act of 2001. This law provides several new powers to the U.S. attorney general to combat terrorism. Several provisions relate to cybercrime and electronic evidence:

  • Expanded authority for ordering wiretapping in a wider range of criminal investigations
  • Relaxed restrictions for obtaining access to voice-mail and stored voice communications
  • Expanded scope of data that can be subpoenaed, such as Internet access logs and other digital records of Internet usage
  • Expanded authority for obtaining access to cable Internet records previously kept private by cable TV laws
  • Provided grounds for Internet service providers to make voluntary emergency disclosures to law enforcement about customer records in emergencies involving immediate risk of death or serious physical injury to any person
  • Removes geographical restrictions on tracing Internet and other electronic communication
  • Expands authority to monitor actions of computer trespassers
  • Permits federal courts to issue nationwide search warrants for e-mail
  • Raises certain penalties for computer hackers to prevent and deter “cyberterrorism”
  • Creates a new offense for damaging computers used for national security and criminal justice

Because of concerns about civil liberties, several of the new powers are temporary. Subject to so-called sunset provisions, they expire on December 31, 2005 unless renewed by Congress. Lawmakers built in these limitations in recognition of the potential for abuse of such powers, which they wished to limit to usage in combating the extraordinary dangers presented by the war on terrorism.

Inside Terrorism