The Canton Repository

October 13, 2001

House gives anti-terrorism bill its OK 

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — A day after the Senate passed a similar measure, the House on Friday overwhelmingly approved legislation that will give federal agents and police broader powers to wiretap, trace e-mail and Internet communications, conduct searches and detain non-citizens.

The measure, approved 337-79 by the House, known as the Patriot Act, includes a five-year sunset provision for its electronic surveillance authority, which was favored by civil liberties advocates. The Senate bill does not have a sunset provision, which would make it more difficult to repeal the surveillance powers if they became a problem.

President Bush quickly praised the House for its action, but sought to keep pressure on Congress to reconcile differences between the House and Senate measures and rush a final version to his desk.

“We must strengthen the hand of law enforcement to help safeguard America, and we must do it now,” said the president in a statement.

Separate bill planned

In one of the biggest differences between the two versions, the House bill does not include provisions designed to disrupt money-laundering operations that benefit terrorists. House leaders plan to offer a separate money-laundering bill next week that is sponsored by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael Oxley, R-Ohio.

Republican supporters of the House bill pressed for quick passage to give federal officials the tools they need to foil terrorist plots before they unfold.

Democratic opponents, who in many cases supported the original House bill, criticized a late-night rewrite that brought it closer to the Senate version and to the legislation requested by the White House. The original House bill sped out of the Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan 36-0 vote.

Concerns that the legislation was being rushed through Congress without sufficient review only intensified after members received the rewritten bill hours before a scheduled vote Friday.

“I do not, nor does any member of this body, have any real idea about what is in this bill or what the consequences are,” complained Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis. “I do not know what the right vote is on this bill.”

No surprise

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., who sponsored the House bill, responded that none of the changes should come as a surprise. He said the bill was rewritten in an attempt to avoid the possibly lengthy process of having vastly differing Senate and House versions reconciled.

In addition to providing law enforcement with new powers, the legislation updates existing wiretap laws that were written before the explosion in cellular and Internet technology. The Senate bill passed 96-1.

The legislation allows police to get a single court order to tap any phone used by a subject rather than having to get a separate court order for each phone.

In terrorism cases, it scraps the requirement to get separate search warrants for each geographical area being searched, replacing it with a warrant that can be used anywhere in the nation where terrorism occurs.

Another provision extends to seven days from 48 hours the length of time that federal officials can hold a suspected terrorist without charging him with a crime or releasing him.

Only three Republicans voted against the bill. Among Democrats, 129 voted in favor, while 75 were opposed.

Among Ohio members, Reps. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, and James Traficant, D-Poland, all voted for the measure.

The bill passed in the House goes back to the Senate next week. The Senate could approve it without changes and send it to Bush, heeding his advice to “quickly get the bill to my desk.” Or the Senate could reject the bill and require a compromise to be worked out between the House and Senate versions. The compromise would have to be approved by
both houses.

Reauthorizatin needed

The changes made to the House bill Thursday night included extending a sunset provision on broadened electronic surveillance authority to five years from two years.

After five years, that authority will expire unless lawmakers reauthorize it.

The White House initially opposed any sunset provision, but administration officials accepted a longer one during negotiations with House leadership Thursday night.

Supporters of the earlier sunset date, including Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., argued that extending it to five years “substantially weakened” the sunset provision. He said the provision is an incentive for the U.S. Department of Justice not to abuse the broadened authority.

Frank called the rewrite of the bill by House leaders “the least democratic process I have ever seen.”

He also complained that the new bill scuttled creation of a deputy inspector general for civil rights and civil liberties in the Justice Department. That office would have been responsible for reviewing alleged abuses of the law and racial and ethnic profiling by Justice Department employees. Frank said the position would have provided another incentive not to
abuse the law.

Democrats have fears

Most of the skepticism toward the bill came from conservative Republicans such as Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., as well as liberal Democrats, who worried that increased police powers will endanger personal liberties.

Even those Republicans grudgingly went along with House leadership.

“Am I happy with it? No,” Barr told the House before the vote. “I do not believe we should be in any way rushing to judgment to diminish our freedoms.” 

But after urging fellow lawmakers to take the sunset provision “very seriously,” Barr voted in favor of the bill.