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House, Senate pass anti-terrorism bill

By The Associated Press, staff


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Editor's note: President Bush signed the anti-terrorism bill into law on Oct. 26.

WASHINGTON — Despite weeks of negotiations, critics of the anti-terrorism legislation that sped through Congress say it doesn't do enough to protect the civil liberties of immigrants or citizens. Some civil libertarians, however, are hailing a safeguard added regarding the FBI’s tracking of e-mail.

The Senate passed legislation today to grant police new powers including the ability to conduct secret searches of homes, tap all of a person's telephone conversations and track people's use of the Internet. The bill, which passed the Senate on a 98-1 vote, now goes to President George W. Bush for his expected signature. The House overwhelmingly approved it yesterday.

Human rights and privacy advocates contend many problems remain in the final compromise.

"These new and unchecked powers could be used against American citizens who are not under criminal investigation, immigrants who are here within our borders legally, and also against those whose First Amendment activities are deemed to be a threat to national security by the attorney general," an American Civil Liberties Union letter says.

But some First Amendment advocates are hailing as a victory a provision added to the legislation that would require a judge to monitor the FBI's use of a powerful e-mail wiretap system.

The clause could help ensure that the system, once known as Carnivore, doesn't collect more information than allowed by a warrant. Carnivore critics worry that the device goes beyond traditional telephone wiretap laws and can gather data about people who are not criminal suspects.

"The concern about Carnivore has been its ability to collect too much information," said David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "So it really is critical to have some means of overseeing how the technique is actually used."

The e-mail system is a device installed at an Internet company to capture e-mails sent or received by criminal suspects. The clause inserted in anti-terror legislation by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, would require investigators to tell a judge every detail about a Carnivore installation, including who installs and has access to it, its configuration and what it collects.

The report required by the Armey clause would go to the judge no more than 30 days after expiration of a wiretap order. It would be kept secret but could be used as a basis for the judge to consider whether police overstepped their authority.

"This language will reassure the public that these new powers will not be misused," Armey said.

Armey has been a staunch critic of Carnivore, now called DCS 1000. His spokesman, Richard Diamond, said Armey told Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to ensure the language stayed in the final version of the legislation. The Justice Department did not object, Diamond said.

"It's nothing that would impede the main goal, which is to get the bad guys," Diamond said. "It's not a hurdle to any investigation if they're following the rules."

Authorities have used Carnivore-type tools more than 25 times in all types of criminal cases, to catch fugitives, drug dealers, extortionists and suspected foreign intelligence agents.

The investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks also has moved online, as agents track down e-mail addresses and Web sites used by the airline hijackers who wrecked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Some of the wiretapping and electronic surveillance portions of the terrorism legislation, which largely expands such powers, expire at the end of 2005. The Carnivore reporting requirement is permanent, however.

Robert Corn-Revere, a First Amendment specialist who defended Internet provider EarthLink when the company refused to use Carnivore, called the clause an improvement.

"There are virtually no accountability procedures in the law before this amendment," Corn-Revere said.

One of the most contentious portions of Bush's anti-terrorism proposal would have allowed the attorney general to detain indefinitely until deportation any immigrant suspected of terrorism. House and Senate negotiators placed safeguards on that proposal by forcing the attorney general to start deportation procedures immediately, charge the person with a crime or release the foreigner in seven days.

Some human rights advocates want it changed even more so that immigrants would not have to stay in jail while their cases go through the deportation process.

That "can result in a virtual life sentence, and the bill provides only the barest of judicial oversight of the attorney general's new power," said Elisa Massimino, director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

The president praised the quick movement of the legislation. "I look forward to signing this strong bipartisan plan into law so that we can combat terrorism and prevent future attacks," Bush said in a statement.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have been demanding legislation to expand the FBI's wiretapping and electronic surveillance authority, impose stronger penalties on those who harbor or finance terrorists and increase punishments of terrorists.

The Republican-controlled House gave strong support to the bill, passing it by 357-66 despite critics' concerns about compromising civil liberties.

In order to get a deal with the Senate, House leaders dumped the House Judiciary Committee's Republican-Democratic compromise with more civil liberties and privacy provisions for a modified Senate version negotiated with the Justice Department and the White House.

The legislation expands the federal government's power to inspect educational records, wiretap all of a person's telephone conversations instead of just certain telephone numbers, track e-mails, seize voice mails and detain immigrants suspected of being terrorists. Critics say it goes too far.

"This legislation is based on the faulty assumption that safety must come at the expense of civil liberties," said Laura Murphy, head of the ACLU's Washington office.

But senators say the House-Senate compromise is a good one. "It's a good bill, and I am very pleased with the work product here," said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.


Congressional leaders resist call to rush anti-terrorism laws
Alliance of civil liberties groups had called for slowdown, questioning proposals’ impact on civil rights.  09.20.01


Critics fear Illinois anti-terror proposal could stifle political speech
'We must punish and prevent mass murder without punishing and preventing rights of free speech, free association and privacy,' ACLU attorney tells House panel.  11.01.01

Religious leaders: Anti-terrorism bill threatens free speech
'The goal of our national security should be defending our freedom, not limiting it,' says statement by Muslim, Christian groups.  10.23.01

Immigration courts open doors to some detainees' proceedings
Public hearings resume for people who authorities determined have no connection to Sept. 11 attacks.  11.01.01

Ashcroft: Religious, political groups could be watched
Attorney general says organizations suspected of engaging in terrorism may be monitored.  12.03.01