The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001 was passed largely because of the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001.
This law gives the U.S government extreme latitude in pursuing criminals who commit terrorist acts. The definition of a terrorist act is broad.
The law provides for relief to victims of terrorism as well as the ability to conduct virtually any type of surveillance of a suspected terrorist.
This act is constantly under review and portions of it are regularly being litigated.
Portions of its relevant to IT security include the authority to intercept electronic communications.
NOTE: For more information on the Patriot Act, one of the best sources is Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriot_act.