October 24, 2001
House Passes Sweeping Anti-Terrorism Bill
By John Lancaster
WASHINGTON -- Barely six weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the House this morning overwhelmingly approved the final version of a landmark bill that will greatly expand the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to tap phones, monitor Internet traffic and conduct other forms of surveillance in pursuit of terrorist suspects.
The Senate is expected to take up the House-passed bill later today or Thursday and it could be on President Bush's desk in time for a White House signing ceremony Friday, congressional aides said. Differences between the House and Senate versions had essentially been worked out in negotiations leading up to today's vote.
In passing the bill 356-66, the House gave the Bush administration most of what it wanted when Attorney General John D. Ashcroft in mid-September presented Congress with a draft that he said was critical to forestalling new terrorist attacks, in part by permitting law enforcement and intelligence agencies to easily share information.
"The House is taking a responsible step forward by giving law enforcement the tools necessary to secure the safety of Americans while protecting our Constitutional rights," House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said in a statement following the vote. "This anti-terrorism bill enhances communication between law enforcement and surveillance agencies, strengthens control of border abuse by foreign terrorists and broadens stiff penalties, including life in prison, for terrorist activities."
Lawmakers denied the administration's most controversial request, which would have allowed the indefinite jailing of noncitizens without charges if they were suspected of involvement of terrorism. The compromise House-Senate version would limit to seven days the length of time an alien could be held without the filing of immigration or criminal charges.
That and other changes failed to satisfy civil liberties advocates, who say the new surveillance powers are so broadly defined that innocent Americans could well be caught up in the dragnet. They also say that many of the new law-enforcement tools could be used by prosecutors in ordinary criminal cases completely unrelated to terrorism.
"This legislation is based on the faulty assumption that safety must come at the expense of civil liberties," Laura W. Murphy, the chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "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 threats to National Security by the Attorney General."
The Senate worked closely with the administration in drafting the bill, and, in the end, it was the Senate version – or something very close to it – that passed the House this morning. Senate negotiators, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) did yield to House leaders on one critical point: Under the final version of the bill, critical provisions relating to electronic surveillance will expire after four years, after which they would have to be renewed.
The administration strenuously opposed the change but relented after House lawmakers made clear they would not accept the bill without a "sunset clause," which they say will permit Congress to deal with any unforeseen consequences from the legislation.
The legislation also includes a number of measures aimed at disrupting terrorist financial networks, which rely heavily on money-laundering. House Republican leaders, under pressure from banking interests that opposed some aspects of the money-laundering portion of the bill, had initially sought to consider those changes as separate legislation. But the Senate's Democratic leadership said they would not consider an anti-terrorism bill that did not include money-laundering.
Copyright © 2001, Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.
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