By Radley Balko
One of the more controversial provisions of the Patriot Act was to broaden the “sneak-and-peek” power for federal law enforcement officials. The provision allows investigators to conduct searches without informing the target of the search. We were assured at the time that this was an essential law enforcement tool that would be used only to protect the country from terrorism. Supporters argued that it was critical that investigators be allowed to look into the lives and finances of suspected terrorists without tipping off those terrorists to the fact that they were under investigation.
Civil libertarian critics warned that the federal government already had this power for national security investigations. The Patriot Act provision was far too broad and would almost certainly become a common tactic in cases that have nothing to do with national security.