If you're from the USA, this phrase represents measures taken by your government to severely hamper individual rights and freedoms. For the rest of the English-speaking West, it ramifies in another way. While we don't all fear the implications of PATRIOT I and II, we all do fear many things whether or not our fear is justified. We have long succumbed to media frenzies drumming up inchoate terror of immigrants, druglords, gangs, child molesters, welfare abusers, viral and other infectious diseases, cancer, obesity, mental illness, impotence and now terrorists. Some of these phenomena are indeed frightening but the hype has led us to believe that they are far more prevalent than they actually are. Some of them are not at all frightening once we know them for ourselves and not through a distorted corporate media lens. The point of this culture of fear is to keep us from thinking and worrying about things which are in fact truly scary: nuclear proliferation; environmental destruction; global climate change; wealth disparities; corporate led governments and media etc.. The powers that be prefer us to cower in fear of unknown terrorists while they destroy the planet that sustains us and impoverish an ever greater proportion of humanity. Real homeland security will require all of us to redirect our fears and the actions they motivate.
In the USA, see Michael Moore's site for information on PATRIOT and other aspects of the culture of fear: www.michaelmoore.com & check out the book, "The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things" by Barry Glassner. For everyone else, find an alternative news source and kill your television once and for all - sounds drastic but it really helps put those media panics to rest.