Key Republican Not Sure on Patriot Act

R. A. Hettinga rah at
Wed Apr 16 18:16:54 EDT 2003


Key Republican Not Sure on Patriot Act 
Associated Press Writer 

April 16, 2003, 12:08 PM EDT 

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's plans to expand a
post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism law face resistance from a powerful House
Republican who says he's not even sure he wants the government to keep
its new powers.

James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the House Judiciary Committee
chairman, complains that the Justice Department isn't sharing enough
information for lawmakers to make a judgment on how well or poorly the
USA Patriot Act is working.

"I can't answer that because the Justice Department has classified as
top-secret most of what it's doing under the Patriot Act,"
Sensenbrenner said when asked about the future of the anti-terrorism
law in a recent interview.

Sensenbrenner maintains that because the department refuses to be
forthcoming, it is losing the public relation battle needed to extend
the law beyond its October 2005 expiration, much less expand it.

"The burden will be on the Justice Department and whomever is attorney
general at that time to convince Congress and the president to extend
the Patriot Act or modify it," he said. "But because of the fact that
everything has been classified as top-secret, the public debate is
centering on (the act's) onerousness."

For example, the American Civil Liberties Union this week used
newspaper ads to attack one provision that the ACLU says allows the
government to enter homes, conduct searches, download computer
contents and Internet viewing histories without informing the occupant
that such a search was conducted.

"Enacting policies that allow the government to enter our homes in
secret and to collect highly personal information won't make us safer,
but it will make us less free," said Anthony Romero, the ACLU's
executive director.

A Justice Department spokesman said the Bush administration will do
its best to answer more than 100 questions from give Sensenbrenner and
House Democrats about the law and its use in the war on terrorism.

"The courts have upheld our actions time and time again," spokesman
Mark Corallo said Tuesday. But "we will do everything we can to
cooperate with Congress and with Chairman Sensenbrenner in answering
his questions."

Passed weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the USA Patriot Act granted
the government broad new powers to use wiretaps, electronic and
computer eavesdropping and searches and the authority to access a wide
range of financial and other information in its investigations. It
also broke down the traditional wall between FBI investigators and
intelligence agents.

Justice officials won't say what their new proposal would do, but "we
will present Congress with an anti-terrorism package sometime in the
near future," Corallo said.

An early draft leaked to reporters in November suggested creating a
DNA database of "suspected terrorists;" forcing suspects to prove why
they should be released on bail, rather than have the prosecution
prove why they should be held; and deporting U.S. citizens who become
members of or help terrorist groups.

But that draft was never reviewed by Attorney General John Ashcroft
and about two-thirds of it will not be proposed to Congress, according
to Justice Department officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

Advocates say the current law has helped quash other terrorism
attacks, but opponents claim it has eroded civil liberties.

Among the advocates is Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin
Hatch, who isn't waiting on 2005 to craft legislation to extend the
life of the law.

Last week, Hatch sought to extend the act through an amendment to a
bill that would further expand government wiretapping authority under
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Lawmakers left for their
Easter break before considering it.

"It seems to me to be ridiculous to take away the best law enforcement
tool against terrorism before we get rid of terrorism," said Hatch,
R-Utah. "This bill has helped us protect ourselves from terrorism both
inside and outside the country. It's a tough bill, but it's
constitutional and it works."

The Justice Department likely will need full Republican support to
renew the anti-terrorism law, with congressional Democrats are already
lining up against Hatch's legislation.

A renewal effort "will be highly controversial and is not justified by
the Justice Department's own record," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of
Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat.

* __ 

On the Net: 

Senate Judiciary Committee: 

House Judiciary Committee questions on USA Patriot Act: 

Copyright 2003, The Associated Press 

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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