Opposes Patriot Act Extension
WASHINGTON -- A proposal to give federal investigators broad new
authority to obtain information in terrorism cases is
""dangerous'' and it would be premature for Congress to expand
the controversial anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act, Rep. Jane
Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said
""I want to know how it's been working, correct its
flaws, before we do anything else,'' said Harman, D-El Segundo.
""What I do not like about the new proposals that (Attorney
General John) Ashcroft is making is to take the courts out. It has, as I
understand it, an unfettered executive authority which is something I
believe is dangerous.''
Harman was referring to a proposal, outlined recently by
President Bush, that would allow federal agencies to issue
""administrative subpoenas'' for a wide array of information
in terrorism investigations, without approval by a judge or grand jury.
Bush also proposed expanded authority to hold suspects without
bail and to seek the death penalty in more cases, saying current laws
pose ""unreasonable obstacles to investigating and prosecuting
His proposal came amid growing criticism of the Patriot Act,
which was hurriedly passed by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks to
give the FBI and other federal agencies new powers to investigate and
detain suspected terrorists. Civil liberties activists, librarians, book
sellers and a growing number of lawmakers say the law is a threat to
privacy, free speech and other rights.
Bush administration officials counter that the law contains
numerous safeguard against abuse and that opponents are exaggerating its
Harman, speaking at a non-partisan forum on homeland security and
in a brief interview afterward, did not single out anything in the
current law for criticism.
""I do believe that modernizing old law was necessary.
And I supported Patriot One,'' she said. ""I didn't support it
because it was perfect. It wasn't. But Congress made a massive effort to
ensure that there would be court review of these expanded authorities.
We have to see how that's working.''
""I don't support taking courts out of the process,
period.... But I do support course corrections and making modernized law
work better to accomplish the goals,'' she added.
Harman raised some concerns about the federal government's new
Terrorist Threat Integration Center, a clearinghouse for intelligence
""I think there were some good reasons to set up that
agency, but those regulations contain no protection for civil
liberties,'' she said. ""Protecting civil liberties must be an
integral part of any homeland security strategy and is not something
that can be tacked on as an afterthought.''
She has advocated legislation that would establish an advisory
council on privacy and civil liberties for the center.
Comprehensive ""watch lists'' and other systems meant
to profile and identify potential terrorists need ""to be
designed carefully,'' Harman added.
""Controls have to be part of this and the access to
the information and the targeting of the information has to be carefully
thought through on the front end,'' she said. ""Many fear that
the profile will miss terrorists and instead catch or inconvenience too
many non-terrorists. It's a huge concern. They're right.''
Nuala O'Conner Kelly, chief privacy officer at the Homeland
Security Department, said safeguards are working at that agency.
""Our framework is second to none, although far harder
to explain than a simple single privacy statute. We have several dozen
statutes that protect privacy of financial information, of health
information, of children's information,'' she said.