Washington Post
September 18, 2001


Anti-Terror Push Stirs Fears for Liberties


By Jonathan Krim

A coalition of public interest groups from across the political spectrum has formed to try to stop Congress and the Bush administration from rushing to enact counterterrorism measures before considering their effect on Americans' privacy and civil rights.

Tentatively named In Defense of Freedom, the group is concerned about everything from expanded electronic surveillance measures sought by the Justice Department to possible ethnic profiling in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks.

Various coalition members stressed yesterday that they want vigorous investigation and prosecution of the terrorists and effective tools for law enforcement to minimize the risks of future attacks. But the group was galvanized by Thursday's late-night action in the Senate, which passed on a voice vote several counterterrorism measures as an attachment to the regular appropriations bill for the Commerce, State and Justice departments. Normally, such amendments would be the subject of separate hearings.

"What is disturbing to people is just how swiftly Congress began grasping for anything to appear responsive to the outrage of the attacks," said James Dempsey, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Dempsey's group and others, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the conservative Free Congress Foundation and Arab American organizations, want a more deliberate approach to avoid the excesses of past crises, such as the internment of Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

"We need to be sure we reconcile requirements of security with the demands of liberty . . . and resist efforts to target ethnicity," said David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

But Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said yesterday that terrorists with links to those who committed last week's attacks might still be operating in the United States and that a new set of counterterrorism measures is needed to address the threat.

Without providing full details, Ashcroft said he is completing a set of proposals that will include extended authority to conduct searches and electronic surveillance and the ability to identify and confiscate assets of terrorists.

Among the measures sought is the ability of law enforcement agencies to get a wiretap order that would target an individual, rather than a specific device or telephone number.

The measures also would allow for "roving" wiretap authority, rather than the current requirement that separate wiretaps be obtained in each jurisdiction of an investigation.

Ashcroft said the rights of Americans would be protected.

A spokesman for Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who last week sponsored a number of amendments similar to what the Justice Department is seeking, said at the time that most of what is being contemplated had been requested for years by law enforcement officials in the Clinton administration.

But coalition members said many such approaches were considered and rejected.

"We need to be clear that doing more of the same that failed to prevent this is likely to fail to prevent it in the future," said J. Bradley Jansen, deputy director of the Center for Technology Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.

Jansen said that better human intelligence gathering, as opposed to electronic eavesdropping, is necessary, and different surveillance and encryption laws would not have stopped last week's attacks.

"The real story is how trackable these people already are," said Richard Smith, chief privacy officer of the Colorado-based Privacy Foundation. He pointed to all of the leads being followed since the attacks by the FBI, including video surveillance cameras at airports, ticket purchases and the identification 18 months ago of one suspect as a potential terrorist.

The White House is pushing for Capitol Hill to act by the end of the week, according to a congressional source.

Copyright 2001, Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.

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