New York Times
October 5, 2001


Terror Laws Near Votes in House and Senate


By NEIL A. LEWIS and ROBERT PEAR

WASHINGTON -- House and Senate leaders said today that they expected to pass separate bills next week in an effort to enhance the fight against terrorism, with the Senate's version giving substantially more authority to law enforcement officials than the one in the House.

As a result, the two bills will have to be reconciled in a negotiation that will again feature a thorny debate about the balance between national security and civil liberties.

While both versions would substantially widen the authority of law enforcement officials to wiretap foreign citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism, the House bill mandates that those powers expire at the end of 2003 unless Congress votes to extend them. This "sunset" provision was a major factor in bringing Democrats and Republicans to a compromise in the House Judiciary Committee, which produced the bill. The Senate version of the bill, which was put in final form today, has no such provision.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the Senate bill was "based on our views on the proper balance between the role of law enforcement and civil liberties."

By and large, the House and Senate bills both use as a starting point a proposal sent to Capitol Hill nearly two weeks ago by the White House, which had hoped its package would speed through Congress with little debate.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has argued that without new legislation, law enforcement authorities lack all the tools they need to thwart terrorists. As a result, both bills would make it easier for law enforcement officials to obtain wiretaps for terrorist suspects who use and discard cellphones. The current law requires officials to obtain wiretap warrants for each separate phone, but the proposed changes would allow the warrants to apply to any phone used by a suspect.

The House Judiciary Committee rejected a number of administration proposals when it forged its compromise legislative package this week. But it moved more quickly than the Senate, and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, notably Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman, found themselves under enormous pressure to drop their resistance to the administration's proposals.

Congressional aides said that Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Democratic leader, had intervened to block any impression that Democrats were an obstacle to antiterrorism legislation. Mr. Daschle said the Senate bill could be voted on early next week.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said today that he was "worried about the constitutionality" of some provisions of the Senate bill, notably those involving the use of electronic surveillance and the detention of foreigners suspected of terrorism.

House members rejected an administration proposal that would have required college administrators to provide the authorities with all records about any foreign student suspected of involvement in terrorism. The Senate version retains the administration proposal.

In making it a crime to harbor a terrorist, the House bill requires that the person being charged know that an individual "has committed or is about to commit" a terrorist act. The Senate version allows law enforcement authorities to file charges against someone who knows or has "reasonable grounds to believe" that the person being harbored is involved in terrorism.

Both bills drop the administration's proposal to allow federal authorities to use evidence from foreign governments obtained by methods that would not be constitutional in the United States.

The Senate followed the lead of the House on one of the most contentious issues, the administration's request to detain indefinitely foreign citizens suspected of terrorism. Under both bills, the government would, in most cases, have to release suspects after seven days if they were not charged with crimes or with violations of immigration laws.

The Senate is often thought to be firmer than the House in preserving civil liberties protections. But the House Judiciary Committee's greater efforts on this issue appear to have been a result of complaints about the administration's approach not only from liberal Democrats but also conservative Republicans.

The two bills appear to be competing to have a catchy title. The Senate bill is known as the "Uniting and Strengthening America Act of 2001," or the U.S.A. Act. The House bill is the "Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act," so its acronym is the Patriot Act.

Copyright 2001, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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