IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Happy Birthday, Patriot Act

The Patriot Act turns 12 today. But what is its role in the era of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks?
President Bush Renews USA Patriot Act
Surrounded by members of Congress and Cabinet members U.S. President George W. Bush signs the H.R. 3199, USA PATRIOT and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005 in the East Room at the White House March 8, 2006 in Washington DC.

ThePatriot Act turns 12 today - but our world's changed a lot since it was introduced. Here's a look back at the biggest moments in the Act's history - and where it's headed from here.

  • October 26, 2001: President George W. Bush signs what he calls "an essential step in defeating terrorism." Read the full text of his remarks here.
  • July 2005 and March 2006: President Bush reauthorizes the Act, with a few new provisions; among other things, they allow the government expanded wiretap capabilities and easier access to library, business and medical records.
  • February 2010: President Barack Obama signs a temporary extension of the law - which he'd originally opposed. In fact, as a senator, he'd even signed a letter arguing for its overhaul.
  • May 2011: Congress approves a four-year extension of the Act. Because President Obama is out of the country, he uses a mechanical autopen to sign off on the legislation - an historic first.
  • June 2013: Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaks documents showing that the Patriot Act's controversial Section 215 was apparently used to justify the collection of Americans' electronic data.

When the Patriot Act was enacted, Wikileaks didn't even exist (and wouldn't for another five years). iPhones - and their culture of easily shared information - were six years away. Facebook and Gmail? Four and three years into the future, respectively. And Edward Snowden was just an 18-year-old college kid.

Our concepts of privacy have changed, hugely, in the past 12 years. So how do we assess the Patriot Act's place in a changed - and still changing - world?